The Truth About Cars » Ur-Turn The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Ur-Turn Ur-Turn: Death Of A Friend Sat, 17 May 2014 16:00:41 +0000

(This week, major management and perhaps ownership changes were announced for Nelson Ledges Road Course. These changes might eventually include the closure and/or sale of the track. We asked noted NLRC racer and LeMons stalwart Daniel Sycks to write a piece in reflection — JB)

Change is never easy. It doesn’t matter if its a relationship, your drive to work, the packaging of your favorite breakfast cereal, we humans are creatures of habit and we like continuity and familiarity. Its part of what keeps our simple little brains happy. Sadly, change is part of life.

Evolution happens and things progress if we like it or not. Changes happened recently at Nelson Ledges Road Course in Garrettsville, Ohio; now I feel like I have lost a dear friend.

NLRC is a favorite old track of mine. Well, maybe it’s more of a love-hate relationship and I know a great many racers who feel the same way about it. As a crapcan racer I have spent many long hours there on cool foggy miserable fall nights there in Chumpcar 25 hour races, following by my swearing that “I WILL NEVER COME BACK TO THIS TRACK”. When it rains, there is only about 20 square feet of dry earth in the acres of in-track paddock area. The showers are not lush, the toilets could be better. You get the idea.

The surface of the track has not been good for the decade I have been attending this track, even though the current surface represents a significant upgrade over what it was as late as 2002. It’s never once been described by anyone as lush or placid. In the same way that VIR is a “racing resort”, Nelson Ledges is “primitive camping”. I recall my first fun day there being greeted by a flag station signal that I don’t think I have ever seen anywhere else, two socks up means I must assume that all is well as that station is able to kick back and display its ankle length crews.

After any trip to NLRC, any animosity starts to fade and within hours. Given a few weeks you are looking forward to more. That track makes masochists out of otherwise ordinary enthusiasts. There is some sort of special magic in the flow from turn to turn. Get turn one JUST right and you fly/slide/glide into turn two. Carry speed there and you cut a second off your lap and you fly into three. Get around the carousel any way you can as there really is NO right way. Just carry speed onto the back and pucker up tight and don’t lift for the kink, if you do you lose two more seconds.

Hold fast but don’t you dare go two wide… Now gather up your courage and brake like you mean it and toss your car left and tuck in right as hear comes the front straight. In a fast car its maybe a minute twenty. In a slow car maybe a minute thirty but no matter how long it takes you are going to want to fight that track all day to do it a second faster than you did your last lap. Its painfully addictive.

No matter what, no matter how questionable the grounds were, the staff has always been A+. They were warm, welcoming, friendly and simply a joy to be around. As such, many of the racers I know and think highly of count Bryan Bartzi and Kerri Lane as friends and members of their race family. I do as well. As such it really hurt this week to find out they don’t seem to be part of the future plans at NLRC.

I have no moralistic feelings nor have I drawn conclusions about what should or should not have happened. Its not my track and its not my money involved and I do not have all the information involved as to why this change happened. I do know thanks to well placed sources and public comments that a motorcycle group that makes regular trips to Nelson had issue with the surface when they ran there a few weeks ago. I know they were not happy with the surface and that they seem to have given an ultimatum to the ownership regarding the direction of the track. Sadly, the change that then happened seems to have been the cost of those who have invested countless hours over the last 40 or so years in what has in effect been one of the very last of the family run race tracks in America.

Maybe this is the start of something better for NLRC? Maybe this will be a painful bump in the road and better days are just around the corner? I really hope so as there is something special about the flow of that nasty, narrow little track. I am sure however that there is no Facilities Fairy. There will be no Pavement Gnomes who sneak out in the wee small hours of the morning and do magic to the surface. There are no Drainage Trolls who will fix the surface water issues or Paddock Elves who will grace the track with spacious showers or other amenities. This will all take real dollars and real investment that has never been offered.

I do hope that this is the start of something better. I hope its the start of something better for those who have been turned away from a life’s passion. I hope that they are rewarded somehow with new opportunities and new challenges. I hope that NLRC finds the investment that it needs to continue on. I feel reasonably sure that it has however lost in that some of its best resources are now gone. Change is painful. Lets hope there is some good to follow.

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Return Of The SE-R Project Sat, 10 May 2014 15:00:57 +0000 IMG_20140412_140202_533_1

(Cory Crelan returns, with more SE-R mayhem — JB)

The plan was a simple one- sell Sentra SE-R #1 and keep the SCC project Sentra SE-R. A bout of bad indigestion was a good comparison to what happened next… just when you thought it was over there was another cramp, pain in the gut, or worse.

scc exhaust

I mentioned in installment one that I had previously owned a b13 Sentra SE-R. Over time, I had forgotten one beguiling aspect about these cars. They have absolutely no resale value! Universal acclaim in the press, four years on Car and Driver’s Ten Best, and being one of the best front wheel drive cars ever made — it does little to get people to shell out much money for these cars or their parts. It is all the more puzzling given the rarity of clean and un-rusted examples available some twenty-odd years later.

At any given day, you might see fewer than twenty up for sale across Craigslist across the entire country. Everyone who watches the Velocity Channel probably believes that rare cars are valuable. I can unequivocally say this is not true. In this case, it makes the car more of a cult classic. It may take these cars another ten to fifteen years to be worth anything close to decent money. Long-time cult classics Porsche 914s and BMW 2002s have finally started to see their prices creep up after long being considered cheap to buy.

The quickest and easiest way to recoup my money would have been to sell car #1 whole. I managed to get my sale for sale ad featured on Daily Turismo. A few weeks later, I listed the car on Ebay. The car fell well short of my reserve on ebay so I had to turn to plan B. The car had a lot of quality aftermarket suspension parts on it. Unfortunately for me, the number of people in the Sentra community looking for road course suspension set ups is pretty small.

Plan B involved me returning the cars suspension back to stock and selling off all the aftermarket suspension parts individually. My friend had a spare stock suspension and agreed to help out with the labor. I was able to barter the new carbon fiber trunk lid from my parts stash for his parts and services. I needed to use the carbon fiber hood because of the dog incident to the front end, but the carbon fiber trunk was easily expendable. A few days after hatching the plan, I started hearing some strange noises when driving the car around and decided to bring the car to my friends shop to be checked out. About halfway to the shop, the engine rpm’s shot way and car refused to go forward any more. I was left on the side of the highway with a huge puddle of transmission fluid and a car that would no longer start.

The car would turn over and almost catch, but not quite start. There were some pretty bad metallic noises coming from tranny area if when the car rolled forward. It was assumed the car would not start because it was somehow stuck in 5th gear and that the transmission was shot. The transmissions are notoriously weak in these cars. After being towed to the shop, the suspension was returned to stock. I found a buyer for the car in its current, assumed condition. Like I mentioned, clean rust free cars are hard to come by. The car was towed out to Long Island to the new owner.

A few days after the sale of the car, I got a call from the seller. He dug into the transmission repair and had some bad news. It turns out the aftermarket flywheel bolts had backed themselves out from the flywheel and had basically grenaded the engine crank. It meant the motor was more or less toast. I refunded him a part of the purchase price as it had assumed the car only had a transmission issue. I was able to get him in touch with another local enthusiast who had a spare motor for sale cheaply.

With car #1 down the road, I was also able to register and drive the SCC SE-R. I ran down to my favorite exhaust shop in the Bronx to have a new catalytic convertor welded up. The SCC car had not passed emissions since 2011. With the new cat on the car, it easily passed the state emissions test. The test is not due for one year and it will be the last test needed in state of CT seeing the car will then be twenty five years old.

The car ended up badly needing its front wheel bearings replaced and along with new rear brake pads. The aftermarket suspension on the car is really tough on the wheel bearings. I was finally able to get the proper alignment done, swap back in the aftermarket ecu, and advance engine timing from stock. The car really was running 100%. However, we were in the middle of one of the worst New England winters in recent memory so it was not exactly the time to go find some windy roads to really push the car.

I was then left with camber plates, big front and rear sway bars, and trick coilovers to sell off. Even though these were the best aftermarket sway bars made for these cars, I didn’t end up clearing much money for them on Ebay. I got killed on the coast to coast shipping charges and the Ebay/paypal fees only made things worse.

The final bout of agitation came with the final transaction of the camber plates and coilovers. The coilovers were unique because they utilized double adjustable koni struts which are normally found on much high dollar performance cars. The set up that I had originally sold for $2500, was homemade in very limited quantities, and was arguably the best set up ever made for this chassis. I listed them online in a couple places. Fall was not the best time to sell these as race season was over for the year.

In February, I had some interest in the set up and settled on a price with a prospective buyer. After taking it on the chin with shipping the swaybars, I offered to drive and hand deliver the suspension to the buyer. He was located about two and a half hours away. I loaded up the car on a cold Sunday and made the trip. The buyer inspected the pieces and offered me less than we had agreed on prior to making the trip. At that point, it was about fifteen degrees outside and I wanted to get home. I reluctantly met him in the middle, took the cash, and went on my way simply happy to be done with everything….or so I thought. The buyer contacted me a couple days later claiming that the two front struts were blown and the bearing in the camber plates had excessive play. Prior to the sale we spoke about how koni offers rebuilds on it struts so there was never a need to buy new. I’d driven on the set up for a couple hundred miles and we hadn’t seen any leaking fluid from struts removing either.

The buyer turned to the Sentra forum for sale thread to state his case and blow up the situation as much as possible. In the end, I sent the buyer a small refund and a note saying what I thought of his negotiating tactics.

Was it all worth this amount of aggravation? It is hard to say right now typing this. I did manage to achieve my goal of making the SCC sentra be essentially a free car. However, you really need to have a lot of time and luck that everything turns as planned… matter how simple the plan may be.

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Ur-Turn: TTAC Commenter Buickman Presents His Plan To Save GM Mon, 05 May 2014 17:19:58 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC commenter Buickman, better known as Jim Dollinger to friends, colleagues and loved ones, was on Autoline Detroit last week to present his plan to save General Motors. Rather than present it in the form of an article, we’re posting Jim’s Autoline segment for your perusal The video should start right at Jim’s segment, but if it doesn’t fast forward to the 42 minute mark. Let us know what you think of the plan.

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Ur-Turn: Need A Lyft? Wed, 23 Apr 2014 15:31:35 +0000 Majda

TTAC reader Majda shares his tale of becoming a driver for ridesharing app Lyft.

Few car enthusiasts get paid to drive soused, singing young women around town. I do. The price was zip-tying a pink moustache onto the grille of my Mazda3.

I like to think of myself as the median reader of TTAC. I drive an enthusiast-approved Mazda3, did a DE course at Summit Point Raceway, and handle my own maintenance within reason. I own a Mityvac and am disappointed with its oil seals. I believe, against all evidence, that my girlfriend will appreciate it if I replace the stock e-brake handle.

There is one thing, though, that differentiates me from the median member of the Best and the Brightest: I have seen the awful face of twenty-year-old femininity, and I am afraid. I have driven down a four-lane highway with four college girls as my passengers, trying to keep control of the car while three tossed my hat around the backseat and the first one swiveled her head back and forth, whacking my shoulders with her perfumed, layered hair, touching my face with her hands whenever she felt inspired to do so, which was often.

I did this, as stipulated, with a pink moustache attached to the clownfish grille of my last-gen 3, because I drive for Lyft.

Lyft, like Uber and Sidecar, is a ridesharing app. Riders hail a driver using a smartphone. The driver – your humble scribe, now your humble chauffeur – drives to the pickup spot to collect you, the passenger. I then ferry you from home to bar, or bar to home, or bar to bar, as you like. When you get out, you don’t pay me directly; instead, you pay through the phone. Lyft takes a small cut.

For passengers, the experience is sociable, convenient, cheap, and pleasantly modern. As with many technological improvements, you get a better product at a lower cost. However, there are a few disadvantages which you, the riding public, should know about:

 1. Competence

Driving a cab is harder than you think, and one of the most gratifying elements of driving one is watching the professionals do it. Tail a real cabbie, at a safe distance, and you’ll see what I mean. They know the light patterns, they know how to hypermile, they know every inch of town, and they know the police patterns better that you do.

It follows from these admissions that the professional cabbie will, ceteris paribus, be better at his job than the man who practices law by day and deploys the pink moustache at night.

 2. Stratification

Hailing a cab is one of the few democratic practices left in America. You stand on a corner, wave your hand, and may the best citizen win. Lyft differs from the taxi norm in several key ways: first, you must have a smartphone to hail a ride, which eliminates the elderly and the very poor; second, you must have a credit card, which eliminates the unbanked; third, you must be connected with the sort of social networks which introduce you to smartphone apps, which eliminates half of America. If you doubt the power of those networks, consider this: in roughly four hundred pickups for Lyft, I have been sent into a poor part of town just twice.

 3. Social Cocooning

When I ride in a cab, I sit in the back. There is rarely a physical partition between me and the driver, but there is always a social partition. In my town, the driver is often Ethiopian or from the subcontinent. He – and it is always a he – generally provides fine service, and I tip out of respect.

It is a socially uncomfortable interaction, because I don’t have much in common with him other than our common humanity. For better or for worse, this makes hailing a cab somewhat discomfiting.

Lyft eliminates that problem. Passengers are expected to sit in the front seat, and Lyft prescribes a fist-bump to start the ride, just to put the passenger at ease. About 40% of drivers are female. I’m not a naturally jovial guy, but my passengers often thank me for chatting them up. Lyft touts this element in its advertising: I am “your friend with a car.”

It’s a wonderful gig. I enjoy driving around my particular city in the evenings, circulating through its neighborhoods and watching the sun go down. It’s a gig, not a career, though, because this innovation has planted the seeds of its own obsolescence. Thanks to Lyft and Uber, affluent urbanites are getting addicted to ride-by-app. Once the app can hail a self-driving car, there will be no need of a driver, taxi or otherwise. Young couples won’t hold hands quietly in the back seat. The brunch crowd will pregame before pancakes, en route. The girls will sing, on the way to the club, unobserved by cabbie anthropologists, and the pink moustaches will dissolve into a sea of white, efficient little pods.


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Ur-Turn: The Cruze-amino Is GM’s CAFE-Proof Small Truck Mon, 24 Mar 2014 11:00:05 +0000 mm_gal_item_c2_0.img_resize.img_stage._2

TTAC reader Evan Reisner thinks that a small pickup is just the ticket for GM. But it’s not the one you may expect.

The prevailing wisdom on TTAC is that many Americans are interested in a compact pickup truck – but the same wisdom also suggests that such a truck would be bad for GM’s CAFE ratings. Market demand aside, CAFE is one of the reasons that Chrysler and Ford got out of the small truck game.

Yet few people know that The General has a product that can combine the best of both worlds. But they’ve chosen not to offer it in the USA.



You can buy it in South Africa, where it’s called the Chevrolet Utility. In Brazil, it’s the Chevrolet Montana. When it’s built and sold in Mexico, it’s the Chevrolet Tornado. I call it the Cruze-amino. And Mexico, which is one of its assembly sites, can allow for duty-free importation, without the dreaded Chicken Tax.

In terms of wheelbase, the truck is squarely between a Cruze and a Sonic. Ironically, it has more in common with the Jeep Renegade than either of those cars, since it’s based on the same SCCS platform shared with Fiat Chrysler. And yes, a diesel is available too.

The Chevrolet is only available in a single body style, and two trim levels. The bed is 66″ long by 52″ wide. That bed would be plenty handy for a lot of folks’ needs. If you need to haul sheetrock or plywood on a regular basis, this probably isn’t the truck for you anyhow. But if you need to do the occasional Home Depot run, you can always buy a small trailer.

Pricing is reasonable as well – right in Sonic and Cruze territory. There’s a base model that’s pretty stripped, starting out at US$13,800. The next level up adds A/C and some creature comforts for around $15,500. The top of the line doesn’t get much over $18,000.

Some time ago, a front-drive “lifestyle” truck was apparently being considered by FCA, using a Fiat platform, but the project never made it to America. Unlike the mid-size Colorado, which is a revival of a declining segment, the front-drive truck has scarcely been tested in America – only the Subaru BRAT comes to mind. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

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Ur-Turn: Autonomous Cars Are Already Here Tue, 18 Mar 2014 14:19:57 +0000 Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed

TTAC reader and former auto journalist Michael Banovsky writes about the inexorable move towards autonomous cars

Autonomous cars are already here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re testing an actual Google Car or cruising the Keys in a Pagoda-roof 230 SL, CUVing the kids to Hot Yoga or signing “11″ on a deserted road. Autonomous cars are here, the debate is done, so enjoy driving while you still can.

Let’s start with a story.

I was driving to work and glanced in my rearview and noticed a lady talking on a cell phone. Is that a chil…yes, that’s a child-in-child-seat, too.

We were at a moderate speed, we stopped, we got going again…and she didn’t hit me. I even watched, two minutes later, as she put the phone down and resumed the school run.

What was I supposed to do, publicly shame her? Call the cops, telling them someone was making a call—a possibly important one—and they should speed over, tout de suite?

This happens all the time, of course, all over the world. Are we to vilify everyone who safely makes a call or text while behind the wheel? Drives drunk? Drives high? Drinks coffee without spilling it? Changes the radio station without crashing?


I don’t think so. That would be—caution, nasty word – surveillance, and we’re probably going to give up driving before it’s monitored or taken away, anyway.

Here’s why: Any anti-social and anti-public safety behaviours* are drivers showing they’ve chosen something else over operating a vehicle. Taking a call while driving is proof, proven thousands of times a second, that we feel talking on a phone is as important to us as driving.

For a driverless future to happen, two things need to happen. First, non-compliance with road laws and rising costs will make driving much more expensive—to say nothing of fuel prices. Second, technology will make it possible.

Now tell me either is unlikely.

The key to adopting driverless cars without outcry is to make drivers feel like they have a choice. The lady I saw talking on her phone? If you could have given her a big green “Autonomous” button, I bet she’d have pushed it before taking that call.

Fines for not complying will keep increasing, making a driverless car system—either built-in or aftermarket— seem cheap in comparison. The aftermarket devices will become so small as to be unnoticeable. What will stop companies from offering ad-supported ones? “Saving $20 on groceries this week will only take 9 minutes, Ms. Greer. Would you like me to set a route?”

Autonomous vehicles could allow us to:

  • – Safely accept phone calls
  • – Safely interact with passengers
  • – Safely navigate through stressful or dangerous driving conditions
  • – Appoint an adult bus monitor instead of driver, making the now-autonomous school bus safer
  • – Drive your drunk ass home
  • – Travel more quickly on highways (what government would argue against higher speeds if they were sure crashing wasn’t possible. Yes, your car will drive faster than you.)
  • – Substantially reduce insurance premiums
  • – Substantially improve pedestrian and cyclist safety
  • – Substantially improve fleet-wide fuel economy
  • – Revolutionize semi-public transit, like airport shuttles and taxis
  • – Send our vehicles for service while we’re at work
  • – Offer incentives to shop in certain stores, or drive in certain places
  • …and many, many other things.

Roads were humanity’s last great analog system, until of course we started mapping things digitally. GPS and Google Streetview for our system of roads. Radar, specialized cameras, sensors for vehicles themselves. The vehicles are irrelevant—at the point machines move for themselves, does it matter if it’s a cement truck or smart fortwo? Does it matter if the data required to move a machine comes from a satellite or the car in front?

Once machines can read the road surface, signs, and conditions accurately (and reliably), these systems will flourish, and the vast majority of motorists will benefit.

Don’t like it? Don’t speed. Don’t use your cell phone. Drive more smoothly. Don’t crash. And tell millions of others the same. Then keep it up for the foreseeable future.

A future where driver-less cars outnumber driver-with cars isn’t crazy. It’s certainty, certainly if drivers keep breaking the rules. Statistics proving how bad we are at driving will allow the technology a foothold, and a few machine generations will work out most problems.

Advertising will take care of the rest.

What, did you think for a moment that companies would allow one of our last, great freedoms—driving—to remain free from monetization forever? “Driving” will become “moving people around.”

If you’re in doubt, take a few minutes and read US Patent #8630897. Search for “Autonomous.”

*As defined by our road laws—if you don’t like them, change them! (Ha.)

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Ur-Turn: What It’s Worth Fri, 07 Mar 2014 13:00:21 +0000 abemiata

Abraham Drimmer writes about moving from South Florida to Michigan in his Miata

“You need to sell your car”, my father told me, when I informed him of my imminent departure. I got the call in mid-October, I’d be leaving Miami for Ann Arbor on short notice. “That thing is going to be absolutely worthless in the snow”.

A two-week notice later and I’m on the road, every artifact of my existence in this corporeal realm crammed into the 51.1 cubic feet combined passenger/cargo volume of my sunlight silver 2005 Mazda Miata. I reached Michigan safely, and promptly fitted a set of snow tires.

As I watched the little roadster gather a coat of fine salt, the wheel wells bulging with weeks of accumulated snow and grime, I mulled my father’s words. Was he right? Was keeping the car that act of youthful automotive hubris we all eventually regret? Is the Miata any good in the snow?

The Miata’s winter competency is subjective. Which do you prefer: control, or the illusion of stability? The back steps out often, understeer isn’t so much pronounced as it is happening constantly. Still, it’s light and subsequently brakes and handles predictably. The feedback is great, the car never lies to you. I like it that way; I’d rather be told of my imminent destruction than have it carried out with no warning. This characteristic speaks to my heritage, speaks to the heritage of Mazda.

There isn’t enough cargo room to allow you to shop at Costco, good —buy local or whatever. It also prevents you from stockpiling, forces you to leave the house regularly for provisions, keeps you social. Important in the coldest months.

It’s small, so it’s easy to brush snow off of. When the windshield isn’t obscured the heat from the sun evaporates the melted snow collecting in the floor mats, creating a sort of balmy greenhouse effect in the cabin. I like that as well, it reminds me of Miami.

Above all it’s engaging, physically and emotionally. You simply have to be a competent driver to get from point A to point B. You need to plan your route, check conditions, and dress appropriately. A pain, I know, but isn’t that what enthusiasts always talk about? Driver engagement? Isn’t that was we want? To be involved enough with our vehicles such that our conveyance from location to location is imparted with at least some fleeting sense of narrative? Sure I’m in a privileged position, what with no children, pets, or sense of self-preservation, I openly admit I have a lifestyle that can afford such inconveniences. Do I feel inconvenienced? Hardly, when I pick up my keys in the morning I’m happy.

That’s worth something, right?


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Ur-Turn: Shopping For A Family Hauler Sun, 02 Mar 2014 14:00:30 +0000 07-Kia-Spectra5

Reader Daniel Latini is a car guy and has a baby on the way. He’s looking for your advice on a new ride that can carry around his family.

My wife is one of those generally temperate souls who has a few firecrackers strewn about her personality. New challenges can spark a little friction in any couple, and something popped when we saw the ultrasound pictures of our still-developing first child.

Her current steed, a middle-aged Korean compact hatch, lost a lot of luster that day. I’m sure the B&B will pelt me with shop manuals for trading a car with less than 100,000 miles, but I think there are some sound reasons to consider an upgrade.

We’re young, clueless and enthusiastic – click the jump and join us as we begin the misadventure of finding our first family hauler!

As the owner of a 2008 Kia Spectra5, my wife has spent the last few years learning about the difference between “spec-sheet” cars (those that have a lot of listed features) and quality cars (those that do not cheap out on everything else). To be fair, the Kia was almost perfectly reliable during its 53,000 miles of service with us (86k in total so far). It did provide a few ongoing headaches though. The Kia giveth and the Kia taketh:

  • Fuel economy has consistently varied between “marginal” (29 MPG highway) and “disappointing” (19 MPG city)
  • The stereo features a 6-disc changer, but it sometimes withholds the CDs like a stubborn dog playing tug-of-war
  • The transmission appears to be gaining sentience as it is takes more and more time to ponder the four forward gears. To make up for the time wasted during the decision process, it slams home every shift
  • The dash is squishy, but it buzzes like previous owners installed an aftermarket beehive

Annoyances aside, there are more practical reasons to upgrade as well. Space is a big one. A weekend trip for the wife, dog and I fills the whole cargo hold and part of the back seat. Home improvement runs can be a challenge. We also periodically drive elderly family members, so something with improved ingress and egress would be appreciated.

Safety is the larger concern though. Jack’s recent wreck has driven a lot of conversation, and the few parents I know who lost young children in car accidents say they are changed individuals as a result. While the NHSTA scores for the Spectra5 seem okay at first glance, it is important to remember that the test was toughened in 2011. The IIHS metrics are both more current and more critical, especially when concerning side-impact performance. The Kia might be acceptable in a crash, but this is not a treasured sports car or weekend toy.  Because we have the means, I am struggling to justify not providing something more robust.

So while I normally keep cars for most of their useful lives, my wife and I have agreed to see what the market has to offer. I hope to share some of our experiences on these pages, but I want to propose a question first – what is the deal with new moms wanting seven seat trucks?

Daniel: “Any idea where you want to start the search? Crossover? Sedan?”

Wife: [enthusiastically] “Tahoe!”

Daniel: [laughs] “Only if we were going to live in it. Wanna start with the CX-5? I think you might like it.”

Wife: “Tahoe! All my girlfriends want one.”

And that is mostly true. A quick poll of my wife’s friends carrying children (whether internally or externally) indicated a universal “need” for a seven-seat vehicle, usually an SUV. These are all young women in their twenties, so I imagine the SUV boom of the 90s conditioned them to some degree. Some hope to have large families, but they all currently have two kids or fewer.

The situation, to this young IT worker, does not compute. Large seven-seaters like the Tahoe strike me as an unnecessary waste of both resources and money for a family starting out. Small seven-seaters, like the redesigned Nissan Rogue, seem to fall between two stools.

What say you, B&B? Am I overblowing the safety concerns about the Kia? Are these women on to something my Y-chromosome prevents me from seeing?

Daniel Latini is twenty-something with a child on the way. A Millenial without a Twitter account, he was trained as a journalist but now works in IT. His passion for cars was ignited while helping work on his father’s Alfa Romeo Spider and was nearly extinguished when he got to drive it.

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Ur-Turn: Saturation Dive Into The ZF 9-Speed Tue, 25 Feb 2014 18:03:02 +0000 fig1

A TTAC reader is an engineer with a major powertrain company, and offered his extremely detailed analysis of the ZF 9-speed. Consider this an AP level course in powertrain engineering.

Before we dive right in to the 9-speed gearbox, let’s take a quick refresher on the basics of gears. The simplest gear set consists of 2 parallel gears mounted on 2 parallel shafts. Shown in Fig.1 is a gear set with a 20 tooth drive gear on the right and a 30 tooth driven gear on the left. For this gear set the speed of the driven gear is 1.5 times lower than the drive gear, and assuming no frictional losses anywhere, the torque on the driven gear is 1.5 times higher. This gear set has a ratio of 1.5:1. This type of a gear set is usually not favorable for packaging since it requires 2 parallel shafts, and there are largest separating forces that push the 2 gears apart which means that the bearings supporting the shafts have significant radial loads on them, in addition to an axial load if the gears are helical.


A simple planetary arrangement is shown in Fig.2 - this is the basis of most modern automatic transmissions. A simple planetary gear set has 3 members mounted on concentric shafts, the innermost gear is called a sun gear, the outermost gear is called the ring gear, and there are evenly spaced planetary pinions that mesh with both the sun gear and the ring gear. These pinions are free to spin around their own axes, and ride on the planetary carrier, which is the third concentric member. The radial forces in a planetary gear arrangement cancel out due to symmetry, and therefore the bearings supporting these shafts do not see much, if any radial loads. Since the 3 shafts are concentric, there are significant packaging advantages as well. This particular planetary arrangement has a 30 tooth sun gear, 72 tooth ring gear, and 21 tooth pinions. For this gear arrangement to go together, the difference between the number of teeth on the ring gear and the number of teeth on the sun gear has to be an even number, and the sum of teeth on the ring gear and the sun gear has to be divisible by the number of planetary pinions. In this case, the sum of the number of teeth on the ring gear and the sun gear is 102, which is divisible by the number of planets (3), hence this is a feasible gear arrangement.

Since there are 3 members in a planetary gear set, one member has to be grounded (i.e. forced to stand still) for there to be a ratio. There are 3 possible ground members (the sun gear, the ring gear, or the carrier), and 2 possible input and output combinations possible for each ground member, therefore this arrangement can provide 6 different speeds. If the number of teeth on the ring gear is denoted by R and the number of teeth on the sun gear is denoted by S

  1. If the ring gear is grounded by the use of a brake, the sun gear is the input and the carrier is the output, the
    ratio of this arrangement is S+R/S or 3.4, i.e. the carrier is rotating 3.4 times slower
    than the sun gear. Therefore in this configuration output is underdriven with respect to the input. If the carrier is
    the input, and the sun gear is the output, then the output is overdriven by the same ratio.
  2. If the sun gear is grounded, the ring gear is the input and the carrier is the output, the
    ratio of this arrangement is S+R/R or 1.417, i.e. the carrier is rotating 1.417 times
    slower than the ring gear. If the carrier is
    the input, and the ring gear is the output, then the output is overdriven by the same ratio.
  3. If the planetary carrier is grounded, the sun gear is the input and the ring gear is the
    output, the ratio of this arrangement is R/S or -2.1875, i.e. the ring gear is rotating
    2.1875 times slower than the sun gear and in the opposite direction. Therefore this arrangement
    provides a reverse underdrive gear. If the ring gear is the input and the sun gear is the output,
    this arrangement becomes a reverse overdrive, and who needs a reverse overdrive?

If 2 of the members are tied together, then the ratio of planetary becomes 1:1, as all members turn at the same speed. A single planetary gear with the right set of clutches and brakes to change the ground member, the input, and the output can provide 5 forward ratios and 2 reverse ratios with 9 shifting elements (6 clutches and 3 brakes). Of course it is not be possible to package the all 9 of the shifting
elements in a practical manner, and the 5 forward ratios are 3.4, 1.417, 1.0, 0.7, and 0.29 – not very useful even if it were possible to achieve them. In engineering literature, a stick diagram”is often used as short-hand to describe planetary gear sets, for the planetary shown in Fig.2 the stick diagram is shown in Fig.3.


Planetary gears can also carry a lot more torque in the same packaging envelope because the load is distributed between multiple gear meshes. Need more torque capacity than the 3 planet gears can provide? You can nearly double that by putting in 6 planets on the planetary carrier.

Now on to the ZF 9 speed – there is a high level presentation available from the ZF website. This presentation has some detailed CAD renders in it, but not a whole lot of detail on the exact function of the transmission. The 2 CAD renders are shown tell us that there are 4 planetary gear sets in this transmission.


Image converted using ifftoany

Image converted using ifftoany

From these CAD renders the patient among the B&B can see that the one ring gear visible in Fig.4 has 86 teeth, and the 4 planets have 22 teeth, which means the sun gear that is not fully visible in the view is a 42 tooth gear. Fig.6 shows the stick diagram representation of the ZF 9 speed transmission, with 4 planetary gear sets numbered 1 through 4 from left to right. If one were to spend 10 minutes gawking at the cut-away transmissions that ZF does bring to trade shows, the following gear specifications can be established quite easily

  1. Gear set 1 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 110 tooth ring gear
  2. Gear set 2 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 110 tooth ring gear
  3. Gear set 3 has a 91 tooth sun gear and a 133 tooth ring gear 1
  4. Gear set 4 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 86 tooth ring gear


The input is the output shaft of the torque converter, which is not shown in Fig.6. The torque converter is obviously driven by the engine. The planetary carrier of gear set 1 is the output to the final drive of the transmission. The following elements are rigidly linked

  1. The 2 sun gears for gear sets 1 and 2 are connected together, in fact it is one wide gear
  2. The ring gear for gear set 1 is linked to the planetary carrier of gear set 2.
  3. The ring gear for gear set 2 is connected to the planetary carrier for gear set 3, which is also the
    planetary carrier for gear set 4
  4. The sun gear for gear set 3 is linked to the sun gear of gear set 4

Additionally, the 6 shifting elements work as follows

  1. Dog clutch A in connected state connects the sun gear of gear set 3 and the ring gear of gear set 4 to the
    input shaft
  2. Friction clutch B couples the sun gear of gear set 4 to the input shaft
  3. Friction brake C ties the sun gear of gear set 4 to ground, i.e. stops it from turning
  4. Friction brake D ties the ring gear of gear set 3 to ground
  5. Friction clutch E couples the planetary carrier of gear set 2 and the ring gear of gear set 1
    to the input shaft
  6. Dog brake F ties the sun gears of gear sets 1 and 2 to the ground

Now on to the gory calculations

First gear

First gear is achieved by engaging shift elements A, F, and D. In this configuration gear sets 1, 2, and 3 are used in series as underdrives, gear set 4 is just along for the ride. The sun gear of gear set 3 is connected to the input, and the ring gear is grounded, which leads to the carrier going slower than the input. The carrier is in turn connected to the ring gear of gear set 2, while the sun gear for gear set 2 is
grounded, causing the carrier of gear set 2 to be further under driven. Since the planetary carrier of gear set 2 is connected to the ring gear of gear set 1, and the sun gear of gear set 1 is connected to ground as well, the transmission output is underdriven even more. The overall ratio is


Second gear

An upshift to second gear is achieved by turning friction brake D off and engaging friction brake C, i.e. shift elements A, F, and C are engaged. Now gears sets 1, 2, and 4 are used as a cascaded series of underdrives. Operation of gears sets 1 and 2 is identical to the first gear, gear set 4 acts as an underdrive, while gear set 3 is along for the ride now. Gear set 4 acts as an underdrive because the transmission input is connected to the ring gear, the sun gear is held stationary by brake C, and the planetary carrier is the output. This leads to a ratio of


Third gear

The upshift to third hear is accomplished by releasing brake C and engaging clutch B. This operation causes both the ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 4 to be connected to the input, therefore the planetary carrier also turns at the same speed as the input. Since the planetary carrier of gear set 4 is connected to the ring gear of gear set 2, they both turn at the same speed, i.e. the input speed. The operation of gear sets 1 and 2 is unchanged, and they act as cascaded underdrives, yielding a gear ratio of


Fourth gear

By releasing clutch B and engaging clutch E, the transmission up shifts to 4th gear, i.e. shift elements A, F, and E are engaged. This action connects the ring gear of gear set 1 to the input, while the sun gear is connected to ground, setting up a straightforward underdrive ratio of


At this point, the 4 gear ratios have been achieved by leaving the 2 dog” elements engaged, and
cycling through the 4 friction elements – and the shifts between these gears are therefore expected
to feel normal”. At this point, the vehicle is going at 30-35 mph and the shift to gear 5 is coming
up, and things get a little interesting.

Fifth gear

To achieve fifth gear, dog brake F needs to be disengaged. This now leads to a brief torque interruption because as brake F is disengaged, the transmission is in Neutral and engaging the frictional element B prematurely would just lead to wear and tear on the transmission for no reason. At this point the transmission ECU and engine ECU are working in tandem to get this upshift done as quickly as possible. The ratio calculation is fairly trivial though, all 4 gear sets are turning at the speed of the input. Why? Because engaging elements A, B, and E means that

  • The ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 4 are connected to the input, i.e. the planetary carrier
    spins at the same speed as the input
  • Consequently, the sun gear and the planetary carrier for gear set 3 are spinning at the same
    speed as the input, i.e. the ring gear gears for gear sets 2 and 3 are turning at the same speed as
    the input
  • Through shift element E, the carrier of gear set 2 is turning at the same speed as the input,
    therefore the sun gear of gear set 2 (which is also the sun gear for gear set 1) is spinning at
    input speed
  • Since the ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 1 is turning at the same speed as the input,
    the planetary carrier which is the transmission output is turning at input speed

The ratio therefore is quite simply


Sixth gear

So far, things have been pretty simple but now the magic begins where planetary gear sets are going to act as mixer” modules, i.e. the input and output turn at different speeds, but the reacting or grounding member is also turning at some speed. The upshift to sixth gear is achieved by releasing clutch B and engaging brake C. This causes gear set 4 to act as an underdrive just like second gear, therefore ring gear of gear set 2 is turning at a speed which is approximately 1.5 times slower than the input speed. The difference between second gear and sixth gear is that brake F is disengaged andclutch E is engaged, which means that the common sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 is spinning at approximately 1.85 times faster than the input. This sets up a kinematic state for gear set 1 where the ring gear is turning at the same speed as the input but the sun gear is turning at 1.85 times the speed of the input, therefore the carrier has to spin at approximately 1.25 times faster than the input speed – overdrive!. Since the B&B do not deal in approximations, the exact ratio is


Seventh gear

As sixth gear shows us, an underdriven ring gear of gear set 2 sets up an overdrive, seventh gear kicks it up a notch by underdriving the ring gear of gear set 2 even further. This is accomplished by releasing brake C and engaging brake D. The sun gear of gear set 3 through clutch A is connected to the input, while the ring gear is connected to the ground via brake D, which means that the carrier spins 2.46
times slower than the ring input, and the carrier is connected to ring gear of gear set 2. Therefore gear set 3 is in the same kinematic state as it is in first gear. This sets up a kinematic state for gear set 1 where the ring gear turns at the same speed as the input, but
the sun spins at a speed that is 2.85 times higher. Therefore at 2000 rpm engine speed, the sun gear of gear set 1 is spinning at 5700 rpm. A dog brake has essentially 0 parasitic losses, while a friction brake would have cost about a 0.2 horsepower drag. The ratio is


Eighth gear

Eighth gear is achieved by closing brakes C and D at the same time, while disconnecting clutch A. At this point in time, the torque levels are low enough that in my humble opinion only the most discerning driver would be able to feel the torque interruption. This causes gear sets 3 and 4 to stop turning entirely, therefore the ring gear of gear set 2 is grounded. This causes the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 to spin faster – 3.65 times the input speed and sets up another over drive ratio


Therefore at 2000 rpm engine the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 is turning at 7300 rpm. But we are
not done yet – things turn faster.

Ninth gear

If underdriving the ring gear of gear set 2 set up 2 overdrives, and grounding it set up another one, there is only one thing left to do, spin it backwards. Ninth gear does exactly that – by connecting clutch B and by the virtue of the fact that the ring gear for gear set 4 and the sun gear for gear set 3 are linked together, we have a very interesting kinematic state. Sun gear of gear set 4 spins at the input speed, the carrier for gear set 4 spins backwards at approximately half the input speed, and the ring gear turns backwards at 1.2 times the input speed. This means that the ring gear for gear set 2 is now spinning backwards at approximately half the input speed. The sun
gear of gear sets 1 and 2 is now turning at 4.95 times the input speed. If the car is going at 85 mph in the 4 cylinder engine variant at an engine speed of 2000 rpm, this little gear is going at any eye watering 9500 rpm. The use of a dog brake at F instead of a friction brake is saving 0.4 hp or about 0.4 miles per gallon, the ratio is


The interesting thing about the Ninth gear is that there are parts in the transmission spinning
backwards to send you forward.

Reverse gear

Reverse and 9th have the same kinematic states for gear sets 3 and 4, i.e. the ring gear for gear set 2 turns backwards at approximately half in the input speed. But gear sets 1 and 2 are switched over to an underdrive configuration which is identical to the configuration in First gear, i.e. brake F is engaged. The ratio is therefore



The only real kink when shifting up through the gears is that the 4 to 5 shift might have an objectionable torque interruption, but otherwise this transmission is going to be well behaved. Downshifting from say 7th to 5th is no problem as well, but a downshift from 8th or 9th to 5th is hard work for this design. As an example if the engine speed is 1700 rpm and a shift from 8th to 5th
is required (passing on 2 lane highways), clutch A has 1700 rpm of slip that needs to be reduced to 0 before it can be engaged. So as a first order of business brakes D needs to be disengaged (100 milliseconds), then engine ECU needs to blip the throttle” to increase speed to approximately 2350 rpm (another 400 milliseconds), then engine power needs to be cut and dog clutch A needs to be
engaged (another 100 milliseconds), and now you are in sixth after a half a second of no torque at all at the wheels, then another 200 milliseconds of low torque as the transmission finds fifth with a more conventional frictional clutch to frictional clutch shift and your engine speed is finally at the 2900 rpm.

From eighth gear to fourth gear is going to be even more of a contortion, with a torque interruption that is about a second long as the transmission ECU and the engine ECU do this delicate dance required to get both the dog shifting elements to engage. When you are looking to pass on a 2 lane road at 60 mph, a second can feel like an eternity, especially to a driver who has to use those paddle shifters to get into the right gear before executing the pass.

Gear spacing

Another issue that the reviewers (including our own Alex L. Dykes) tend to take note of is the wide spacing between first and second gears. Unfortunately this is a direct result of the transmission lay out. Gear set 3 is pushed to the limit with the ratio, trying to make first gear ratio any lower than 4.7 would make the planetary gear pinion speed unreasonably high. So the first gear ratio is more or less
a given. It would be possible to change the tooth count on gear set 4 to numerically increase the second gear ratio. As a thought experiment, we could change the sun gear of gear set 4 to 46 or 50 teeth instead of the 42 it has, the result?

Gear Ratios with S4 = 42 Ratios with S4 = 50 Ratios with S4=46
1st 4.700 4.700 4.700
2nd 2.842 3.020 2.931
3rd 1.909 1.909 1.909
4th 1.382 1.382 1.382
5th 1.000 1.000 1.000
6th 0.808 0.790 0.799
7th 0.699 0.699 0.699
8th 0.580 0.580 0.580
9th 0.479 0.454 0.467
Rev -3.805 -2.891 -3.308

So a 50 tooth sun gets better spacing between first and second, somewhat worse spacing between second and third, all other gears are largely unchanged, expect that reverse gets screwed up – it is perhaps not low enough for vehicles with off road ambitions. So perhaps a happier middle ground could have been a 46 tooth sun of gear set 4, that leads to a reverse of 3.308 with a second gear ratio of
2.9307. It also gives the transmission an overall ratio spread of 10.065, which sounds better for marketing purposes than the 9.81 that exists currently. This alternate reverse ratio is almost identical to the reverse in the ZF 8 speed RWD transmissions. So this 42 tooth sun gear is a bit of a head scratcher – perhaps keeping the tooth count at 42 saves some money because there is manufacturing tools can be shared between this sun gear and the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2.


I give a Colbert Tip of the Hat” to the engineers at ZF for this design. It is obviously a clever design but one that could cause some drivability surprises to an average driver, though durability-wise, I see nothing that causes major concerns. Design and development of a transmission concept like this ranges from 20 million dollars
to 50 million dollars, so the ZF management had some serious cojones to OK this design, it is a risk that has paid off to an extent. I know of many a management teams that would have said no, but time will tell just how compact other 8/9/10 speed transmissions and just how good a decision this is..

Some CAD renders
available on line show a 78 tooth sun with 114 tooth ring gear, this is a kinematic
equivalent of 91 tooth sun gear and 133 tooth ring gear

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Ur-Turn: The World Of Counterfeit Plastics Mon, 10 Feb 2014 14:00:28 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC reader Dean Trombetta is back, giving an insider’s look at a widely reported but mis-understood story involving automotive plastics.

Last week, Aston Martin announced the recall of more than 17,000 vehicles for defective throttle pedals. The term “counterfeit plastic”, was frequently mentioned in the story, and for those not in the plastics business, the term may seem confusing. We usually associate the term “counterfeit” with consumer goods, specifically luxury items like watches, handbags and women’s accessories. Despite being in the plastics industry, I wasn’t sure what initial reports were referencing. But further research has shed some more light on the matter, and there seem to be two possible scenarios at play here.

Typically, when a new plastic part is designed, the engineers pick a type of plastic for the part. They do not typically specify a specific grade, just a type such as “nylon 6/6″ or “ABS”. The blueprints are drawn for the part and a material specification is put on the print to call out what material is to be used.

The engineers at the OEMs have dozens and sometimes hundreds of material specifications that have been written over the years that provide detailed requirements for a plastic material such as UV resistance, tensile strength etc. When the tooling is complete, sample parts are molded with a material that meets the specification, and these initial parts are submitted to the OEM in what is referred to as a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) package.

This package includes the parts and supporting documentation proving that the materials used are able to meet the specification on the print, and that the part has the correct dimensions. Once the package is approved by the OEM and production begins, the supplier is not allowed to change anything without submitting a new PPAP. This means that the supplier is not allowed to just willy-nilly switch the material to a cheaper grade without getting approval first.

GM, Ford and Chrysler have “approved source lists” attached to each material specification that actually call out specific grades of plastic that can be used. Upon getting the print, the supplier looks up the specification in a database and it tells them to use DuPont grade 123 or Dow grade 456. Strangely, GM Ford and Chrysler are really the only ones that do this. Virtually every other automaker does it differently. Only appearance parts and parts deemed critical have approved sources and all other parts have a specification only and the supplier is responsible for making sure the material they choose meets the specification. Suppliers to these other companies are still not allowed to switch materials without submitting a new PPAP after production begins.

However, for some suppliers, the temptation to use cheaper materials is too difficult to resist. They might switch to a cheaper grade and make sure that the new material still meets the specification or they might just hope that it meets. If a supplier gets caught using a “non-approved” material, they could get in some trouble and if this is discovered during a recall situation, things can really get ugly. This scenario is not that uncommon and is what I thought may have happened to Aston.

However, after hearing that representatives from DuPont were involved in the Aston Martin, I think something else might have happened.

There are currently over 60,000 grades of plastic available commercially. These materials all have different properties. There are a relative few chemical companies that actually convert petroleum distillate to plastic but most plastic parts are not made of this stuff. The raw material is sent to a compounder that melts the plastic down and adds all sorts of ingredients such as color, heat stabilizers, impact modifiers, UV stabilizers, reinforcements such as fiberglass and numerous other additives.

There are thousands of these compounders all over the world that take basic “virgin” plastic and convert it into the materials that are used to make automotive parts. Some of these compounders are very small companies. Often these compounders will get a sample of another manufacturers material and reverse engineer it. They can often find out what the properties are and make an “equivalent” grade. This is not illegal assuming that they are not violating any patents, and patents on plastic materials are exceedingly rare.

The line gets crossed when someone makes a material and then labels it using someone else’s trade name and grade number. To be fair, sometimes this happens innocently. Some grades of plastic such as DuPont Zytel 70G33 are so ubiquitous, that the grade has become synonymous with that type of material, in the way that brand names like Kleenex, Xerox and Coke are synonymous with the generic product. I run into many people that refer to all acetal material as “Delrin” which is actually another DuPont trade name. I personally believe that many compounders will refer to their own product with a brand name out of laziness, rather than any intent to deceive other parties.

Sometimes, the intentions are not so innocent. There was a big case in the 90′s that involved a company selling generic acetal resin and labeling it Celcon M90 which was and still is a trademark of a large manufacturer called Ticona. This company was even making counterfeit bags and boxes and providing fake test reports for the material. The owner of this company ended up serving 5 years in prison.

In the Aston Martin example, we can see how the idea of a “counterfeit” plastic part came to fruition. A Chinese compounder likely wanted to make an equivalent to the aforementioned Zytel 70G33, a common plastic for automotive applications. Ironically, the raw nylon to make this plastic has to be purchased from DuPont or BASF. Other additives like glass fiber, black pigment and copper based heat stabilizer can be purchased elsewhere.

While any given outfit can theoretically make this blend, doing it cheaper than DuPont is next to impossible. DuPont’s size enables them buy all of the ingredients at a much lower cost. In order to entice the supplier to buy the “generic equivalent” from your own small outfit, you have to cut a few corners to make up the cost difference. That means less heat stabilizer,  a cheaper coupling agent and even usng scrap nylon parts that are recycled into the mix.

All of a sudden, the material that might cost $3.50/lb from DuPont can be sold for 50 cents on the dollar. Just put the material in fake DuPont bags and provide some DuPont paper work that you made with a pirated version of Microsoft Word and you’re in business and pray that you don’t get discovered. This time, they ended up in a product that they had no business being in – a high-dollar exotic car.



]]> 65
Ur-Turn: Not Your Grandmother’s Nylons Thu, 02 Jan 2014 12:30:22 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATTAC reader Dean Trombetta sent us an article on anti-freeze resistant nylon and its applications in the automotive world.

In early 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against Porsche alleging that the company knowingly installed defective coolant pipes made of nylon into engines of Cayenne model SUV’s. Apparently, the pipes are very likely to fail prematurely resulting in serious engine damage. If the vehicle is out of warranty, customers end up spending big bucks to repair their engines and replace the coolant pipes. The replacement coolant pipes are made of aluminum.


Most of the readers here probably know that this is not the first time that plastic coolant fittings have failed in a spectacular fashion. In the early 2000′s Ford settled a class action lawsuit brought by owners of various vehicles that had 4.6L V-8′s with intake manifolds made of Nylon. These intake manifolds failed at the coolant passage. The intake manifold was replaced with a new design in which the coolant passage was made of… you guessed it, aluminum.

DuPont was at the forefront of the drive to use Nylon, specifically Glass Fiber reinforced Nylon 6/6 for engine parts starting with radiator end caps which were first adopted by Ford in 1986. Later, in 1996, the first intake manifolds manufactured from the same material started appearing on cars. Nylon intake manifolds have since become ubiquitous and I think that the technology is proven at this point. There are several advantages of using plastic in place of steel or aluminum for intake manifolds. The plastic intake manifolds are lighter weight, the passages can be made smoother which helps deliver fuel more efficiently and probably the number one reason is that they keep the fuel cooler helping the engine run better.

The nylon is typically glass fiber reinforced containing 30-35% by weight what is called “short glass fiber” in the industry meaning that the fibers are approximately 1/16 inches long. The glass fiber adds enormous tensile strength and rigidity to the material. Unreinforced nylon 6/6 has a tensile strength of approximately 12,000 psi while 35% glass fiber reinforcement bumps the tensile strength up to roughly 28,000 psi. This is approaching the tensile strength of some softer grades of steel. Nylon by itself would not bond to glass very well. To facilitate the marriage of these two materials, the glass fiber is coated with proprietary “coupling agents” that allow the nylon to bond to it.

Compared to standard glass fiber reinforced grades of nylon, the anti-freeze resistant grades use better coupling agents as well as heat stabilizers to help the plastic hold up to the elevated temperatures better. The anti-freeze and the organic acids that have been added to anti-freeze in recent years as corrosion inhibitors are thought to attack the bond between the glass fiber and the nylon thus weakening the material.

Whatever is going on chemically, one thing is for sure, the damage done to the nylon over time is severe. A little perusing of the DuPont website revealed a little bit of data on the affects. First to be clear, nylon materials are typically tested in what is called a “dry as molded” condition. The properties of nylon are severely affected by humidity, so in order to maintain some consistency of test results, testing is always performed on specimens that are taken right off of the molding machine and sealed into air tight containers. Here is what we would expect for tensile strength dry as molded and then after being exposed to a 100% relative humidity environment and then finally after prolonged exposure to engine coolant.

Typical Nylon 6/6 35% Glass Fiber Reinforced Tensile Strength

Dry as molded  at 23C                                                     29000 psi

24 hrs at 100% relative humidity at 23C                   11600 psi

24 hrs at 100% relative humidity at 130C                8265 psi

1000 hrs exposure to 50/50 Zerex® at 130C          5800 psi

5000 hrs exposure to 50/50 Zerex® at 130C          1450 psi

As you can see exposure to the anti-freeze has a significant impact on the properties of the material and this is under ideal conditions. Molded test specimens are designed to produce consistent test results and do not typically have the molding variations that will be experienced in production parts that are cranked out by the tens of thousands. These parts can have significantly lower properties than we see here.

I suppose an automaker could make the claim that these parts are considered wear items and must be replaced as part of regular maintenance. But, I would suggest that a customer buys a car with the expectation of not having to replace major engine components for a reasonable length of time. Furthermore, any components whose failure will cause catastrophic damage to other engine components should be built to last a very long time. Unfortunately, the history and the data seem to indicate that the plastics that are currently being used for parts exposed to engine coolant are not really suitable.



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Reader Rental Review: Seat Altea XL Fri, 15 Nov 2013 20:28:25 +0000  


This review comes from reader Nicholas Naylor, who rented a Seat Altea XL for a recent trip to Spain.

My wife and I attended a wedding in southern Spain recently, along with another couple who are close friends of ours. We’re all taller than average, and being that we’re attending a wedding, the luggage load was heavy. So my idea of renting something small and Euro chic was out of the question; it had to be a wagon. Enter the Seat Altea XL.


Built off the same platform as the VW Jetta, although with a lesser wheelbase, it’s a tall wagon that manages to be pretty attractive from most angles. It was designed by Walter de’Silva, he of the Alfa 159 and Audi A5. Thus, the lines are clean and the front three-quarters view quite handsome for a wagony-vanish thing. Ours was a base model, however, so the 15″ plastic hubcaps accentuated the sheet metal over the rear of the vehicle, which along with the raked rear end and grey color gave the Altea a slight resemblance from some angles to a bloated whale, or a small Lincoln MKT. Given the vehicle’s purpose, however, I liked the styling, and nicer wheels fix the issue. This was the holy grail of the US-based Euro enthusiast: diesel, stick shift wagon.

The overall size is a few inches short of a Mazda CX-5, so the Altea is Euro-parking friendly. Speaking of parking… due to the lack of parking availability and our downtown apartment location in a major city, we parked illegally every single day, just like the locals do, and jammed the Seat into the tightest of spots. This would be maddening to have to do regularly. We never got a ticket. In fact, I never saw a parking ticket on any car. Isn’t this a country that could use some easy revenue sources?

Despite the relative smallness of the vehicle, this American group fit just fine. Honey-boo shaped Americans would have trouble with the well bolstered front seats…but they supported and coddled my hungover, slightly spasming back on a 2 hour ride to Grenada the day after the wedding. I could definitely live with them.

The configurator at notes that the Altea XL 1.6 TDI gets a combined 4.8L per 100km, which equates to about 49mpg. 90hp is what this thing puts out, and it feels like it. 0-100kph (60mph) supposedly comes in 14 seconds. I spun the tires once, entering a freeway from a dead stop, dropping the clutch, while in a puddle. Not having to fill up at any point, I didn’t have an exact fuel economy reference, however, I did go about 500 kilometers of mixed urban and freeway on half a tank of diesel, meaning a 1000km/600mile+ range. So those who look fondly overseas for their frugal commuting utopia must realize that this car will get smoked at a stoplight by a misfiring Chevette. Once finally up to speed, steering, handling, and ride are all quite good. So the car is spacious, yet easy to park in the miserable inner-city European parking spots.

The interior is simply designed, dark (all black with red lighting, like a… Pontiac), with cheap plastics that have a somewhat solid feel and nice textures to them. The main touch points, such as the steering wheel and stick shift, feel like quality pieces. So it seems a good VW recipe—good style, high economy, spacious, practical, and quality on the main touch points. However, the Pontiac similarities keep coming — at 140kph (80mph) the steering wheel started to vibrate, and this car had 46k on the odo (less than 30k miles). Cranking up the defroster to high caused some trim plastic by the vents to come loose and rattle. There were a couple small niggling rattles here and there.

The Altea was basically appointed; with no cruise control, Bluetooth, or USB/Aux input, even. Power windows only up front, roll them down in the rear (ala Ford Tempo). It’s got a diesel and AC; that’s about it. Still…there’s something refreshing about such simplicity. The configurator puts it at 20,423 Euros. That may very well be $26k, however, a Ford Focus starts at $16k in the US, and €16k in Spain, so my guess is that this car could sell for $20k here, given proper effort. Don’t hold your breath.

A few years back I had the pleasure of spending a week in the Balkans (Croatia/Bosnia/Montenegro), where my rental was the ever-popular Skoda Fabia, another VAG sub-brand product. The feel of the car, from design, equipment level, materials quality, etc., was strikingly similar to this Seat. Indeed, Seat and Skoda seem to compete for the same customer, and Skoda seems to be winning the battle, with a better footprint in the healthier markets of Europe, more unique models (such as the Yeti and Rapid), access to important export markets such as India, and a smarter reputation. Thankfully for Seat, the master VAG is strong.

If VW were in the same financial position as Fiat, Opel, or Peugeot, then there is no way the survival of this brand would be justified. Even still, if it is to survive, then it will likely need more compelling and unique product. The Altea, arguably the most unique Seat, and a perfectly fine Euro-wagon, just doesn’t seem to be enough.

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Ur-Turn: Mitsubishi’s Biggest Fan Discusses The Renault-Nissan Deal Fri, 15 Nov 2013 12:00:25 +0000 6thGalantVR-4

Today’s edition of Ur-Turn comes from Brian Driggs, a long-time TTAC reader, Mitsubishi fan and published of Gearbox Magazine, a digital enthusiast publication that we highly recommend.

As a North American Mitsubishi enthusiast, I often find the dismissive comments about the brand disappointing. While the US might be the second largest market on the planet (second to China, I suspect), it’s far from being the only market. I believe Mitsubishi is diversified enough they can afford to be more proactive with regard to automotive trends. News of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi partnership only supports that belief.

Mitsubishi doesn’t necessarily have to move a lot of units in the US market. While everyone else is focused on converting existing models into hybrids, I see Mitsubishi looking beyond, to the next generation of electric vehicles and infrastructure. They don’t have to change up their message every month because everyone still thinks their $40,000 “EV” is really a hybrid. They’re just quietly evolving into a fun-to-drive electric brand for the masses; laggards in one respect, early adopters in another.

Back to the new partnership. By now, everyone is familiar with the details; Renault-Nissan gets access to more EV technology and Mitsubishi gets a “new” model to likely replace the now soundly stale, North American Galant. All three will collaborate on a couple new models in the not-too-distant future, which should be nice.

Still, the comments run the full, incredulous gamut, from “I can’t believe Mitsubishi is still in business,” to “Mitsubishi is still doing sub-prime auto lending?” Yeah. That’s right. They are still in business and they are still doing sub-prime lending. This new partnership isn’t meant to reinvent their brand in America. It’s meant to keep costs down while they continue developing the vehicles they know the world is going to demand as fuel prices continue to rise (and corporate welfare hopefully ends) in coming years.

So who are the EV experts these days? Tesla comes to mind; Bold, innovative, exotic. Nissan’s up there with the Leaf. And then there’s Mitsubishi. What’s that? You’ve never seen an iMiEV on your way to work? That’s okay. They just took second and third place at the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb this year, giving “Monster” Tajima a good run for his money in the rain. They also build electric trains, industrial lasers, consumer electronics, and dabble in nuclear power generation. I’d say they know what they’re doing.

The global auto industry is so inbred these days, it’s foolish to single out any one player as somehow being destined to fail – especially based on it’s perceived performance in the American market. Globally, Mitsubishi is doing just fine, and I’d offer their ability to weather the economic downturn whilst remaining focused on the product lineup they want to sell speaks to the quality of their brand.

Not to say I consider anyone here a fool for taking a comfortable seat on the Sycophant Express – we all do it. I’m quick to point out the only reason GM is remotely profitable today isn’t because they’re making better cars, but because they’re still enjoying limited competition in the truck market and because, for some strange reason, they’re huge in China. That’s my personal hangup.

We’re all bound to have different opinions, but our shared interest in the auto industry, in all its interwoven complexity, is a solid foundation upon which we can build greater understanding of the world around us. I’ll be honest with you, barring announcement the Mitsubishi Triton will be built in the States, or that this merger will mean I can get finally get a turbo-diesel, 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive, ASX4 (unlikely, as that’s a partnership with Peugeot and Citroën), news of this merger hardly moves my pulse. It does, however, show me Mitsubishi is still doing better than many had thought and remains focused on the long game and, in that respect, pleases me.


Brian Driggs is Editor-in-Chief of Gearbox Magazine

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Luke’s Camaro, Part One Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:45:34 +0000

Luke, also known as “pharmer” here at TTAC, has a story to tell about his ’94 Camaro. Give him a warm welcome! — JB

Let’s get something straight before we even get into this little story: I don’t live in a trailer, rock a mullet, work the swing shift at Burger King, or street race on the weekends. These are the ugly stereotypes applied to owners of Camaros and Firebirds, and they are not fair, true, or particularly funny. Nevertheless, I have heard these stereotypes thrown out as jokes from a lot of different people, and I am none of them.

I am, however, in a long term relationship with a 1994 Camaro Z28.

My inclination for such impractical affairs started early. There has been never been a time in my life when I was not a car guy, and specifically a Chevy guy. I was brought home from the hospital in a Camaro, and slept in my crib cuddled up with a stuffed dog and a stuffed Corvette. My parents bribed me through doctor visits, church services, family events, and several years of school with Hot Wheels cars. I lost two baby teeth to the unyielding dash of my great-grandfather’s 1963 Impala during a panic stop, and could tell you the model year of any Chevy from 1930 through 1975 before I understood simple math. I am a Chevy guy.

My love for the 4th-generation Camaro started like many great relationships: through my family, specifically my Grandpa Wally. He loved cars and subscribed to literally all of the major buff books, and one day I spotted the January 1993 issue of Motor Trend sitting on his coffee table. In blazing bold yellow text it said: FIRST FULL TEST: ALL-NEW CAMARO! And there was a HOLOGRAM of the car too! I sat down, started reading, and was hooked.

Inside were many pages of detailed information about the new Camaro Z28. It was a big deal — the last time the Camaro was new was over a decade prior, in 1982. It was also the beginning of Detroit’s long era of ever-escalating cheap speed, and the new 4th generation F-body was widely viewed as the first “real muscle car” that GM had made since their heyday in the late 1960s. The technical specifications were certainly exciting — the LT1 engine from the Corvette, a 6 (!!!) speed manual, 4 wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and 50-series Goodyear GS-Cs.

But what really struck me was the styling. It was just SO COOL: dart-shaped, clean, with recessed headlights, a dramatically sloped windshield, a beautifully integrated rear spoiler in the rear deck, and the Z28-only black roof that balanced everything out so nicely. The design was so cohesive and smooth; it looked like a fighter jet – athletic, powerful, and elegant all at once. I don’t think I put that magazine down for 2 solid months. David Kimble’s beautiful fold out illustrations rivaled Elle MacPherson’s swimsuit issue in its ability to hold my attention. I burned for that car, and promised myself that when I was an adult I would certainly have one.

I grew up, left home, and turned my attention to the things that all young men love; specifically college, co-eds, and Coors Light. But I did work hard and committed myself to a path that led to a career that I love, a beautiful woman that could put up with me, and enough financial stability to buy myself some toys. A beautiful red Camaro Z28 would eventually come into my life and make me complete, but I had to make a few mistakes first. We’ll leave that for part 2…

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Ur-Turn: Why Drive? Sun, 03 Nov 2013 14:47:46 +0000 valerie

After noted Carrera Cup racer Sean Edwards was killed while instructing from the right seat, I wrote a piece on the incident for Road&Track. I also asked my friend Valerie Roedenbeck Maloof to contribute her thoughts here. Mrs. Maloof, whose work has also appeared in Porsche Panorama, is both a driver and the wife of a racer, so she has a unique and pertinent perspective on the risks of driving and instructing — JB

The sad news came on the morning after my husband and I had returned from a very enjoyable weekend at MidOhio, where we had spent three days driving with the Ohio Valley Region Porsche Club. Sean Edwards, 26, had died in a crash at Queensland Raceway in Australia. Edwards, a race car driver who was leading the Porsche Supercup and who was recognized as an all-around GT talent, perished while driver-coaching a 20-year-old aspiring race car driver.

His death stopped me in my tracks. We had just seen Sean at the Circuit of the Americas a few weeks prior, wished him good luck, and watched him drive the hell out of the MOMO Porsche, overcoming a variety of on-track challenges. He was by no means a close friend, but we respected him and admired his talent and racecraft. His friendly smile and admission that he was new to Instagram, but was enjoying it, haunted me.

Sean’s death served as a stark reminder that no matter how safe race cars and race tracks have become, the risk of terrible injury and death are still very much real. Roll cages, HANS devices and nets do wonders to help keep drivers safe, but when your car leaves the race track at 220 km/hr, strikes a concrete wall masked by a few tires, and bursts into flames, as Sean’s did, no amount of safety devices are going to keep you safe.

The problem is, those of us who have come to love motorsport in the last decade have been lulled by a false sense of security. Deaths in motorsport used to be commonplace before 1980, but these days they can be considered rare. When we witness Allan McNish’s spectacular accident at LeMans (2011) and watch him walk out of the remnants of the Audi R18 a little shaken, we believe drivers are immortal and racecars are completely safe these days. But then reality reminds us this is not the case. This has been a particularly bad year — we had already lost Allan Simonsen when his Aston Martin hit Armco in front of a tree at LeMans, and then Sean in Australia.

After Sean’s death, I found myself questioning my decision to participate in motorsports events. I am the mother of two 8-year-olds who depend on me for care. Is my decision to participate in motorsport an irresponsible and selfish one? Granted, driver’s ed events are nowhere near as dangerous as door to door racing, and a Spec Miata does not travel at the same speeds a Cup Car or DP do. But by easing myself into a race car and pushing the limits of grip, I am, arguably, taking an unnecessary risk that could leave my daughters with an injured or dead parent. These are not easy things to consider when our family considers motorsport such a large part of our lives.

My husband and I both participate in motorsports events – we met at a race track, and have always driven (I drive in D.E.s and he driver coaches and races). Friends have often asked me if I am ever uneasy about him being in a race car, and I answer that no, I am not. This is a partial lie; the truthful answer would be, “I am not, most of the time.” I am not when I consider that he is a safe driver, has excellent car control, and maintains his cars well. I am when I am reminded that no matter how talented you are, and how well prepared you are, things sometimes do go wrong and accidents happen. But just as you send your child to school each morning and suppress the thought that he or she may get hurt while you’re not there, I convince myself my husband will return home safely.

So why do we do it? Sean Edwards was the son of Guy Edwards, a Formula 1 driver who helped pull Nikki Lauda out of a flame-engulfed car in the 1976 German Grand Prix. He presumably did not grow up innocently idolizing motorsport, but was aware that things could go frighteningly wrong. Drivers know the risks, and yet choose to get behind the wheel time and time again.

I can’t speak for Sean or even my husband, but I know why I choose to drive. The race car, with its raw edges, tight spaces and tight belts is uncomfortable when one first gets in. The helmet constricts your view and the HANS limits your ability to turn your head. It’s loud and uncomfortable as you drive your way to pit lane. But then the green flag flies, and all the discomfort goes away. Your breathing slows and for the next half hour or more, you are living within each moment. The level of concentration driving requires is nothing short of absolute – you must stay in the moment, consider the car’s feedback, and prepare for the next corner, but only the next one.

For those of us who have spent a lifetime attempting to espouse the teachings of Buddhism and Yoga, which encourage practitioners to stay in the present moment and not waste time on the past or the future, a race car at speed is the perfect place to live this teaching. You simply cannot be anywhere but right there, driving. The result is nothing short of absolute calm and joy, all while traveling at high speeds. Then, you exit the car and life returns – your shoulders are sore from the HANS pushing down on them, your back and legs are tired from shifting, your arms are tired from turning the wheel without the help of power steering, and your hair smells like exhaust. But the joy stays with you. I believe we drive so we can experience that joy. It is no accident motorsport is a passion. It is no wonder we forget the danger as we pursue that perfect spiritual experience in the car. It is nothing short of prayer.

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When Project Cars Become Project Cars Fri, 25 Oct 2013 15:06:59 +0000 dog-light-no-mix-well

Everybody please welcome Cory Crelan to these pages. He’s a TTAC reader who had the rather indefensible idea to buy a pair of Nissan Sentras… of course, they’re both SE-Rs. Check out his story and offer your feedback as to his future plans! — JB

About three years after I sold my 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R, I got a Facebook message from my friend Jim. He told me to call him right away. Jim is very active in the B13 (1991-94) Sentra SE-R community and works at a very busy repair shop outside of Hartford, CT. He currently owns four variations of the B13 cars between the SE-R and NX2000. When I called him, he had an interesting story to tell: A mutual friend of ours, Steve, got a job offer on the west coast and had ten days to uproot his family from Connecticut to Oregon. Steve happened to own four Nissans.

One of them was possibly the most well-known and documented SE-R in the country.

About five years ago, Steve bought the Sport Compact Car magazine project SE-R on Ebay. He subsequently flew out to California and drove the car home to Connecticut. The magazine is no longer published, but back in the day it was the gold standard for knowledge about the sport compact car scene. This particular SE-R was written about for years by the magazine. His experience with it was positive enough that Steve later picked up a second 1991 SE-R for his high school age son to drive.

Jim relayed onto me that it was not economically feasible for Steve to move his four cars to the West coast and that he was willing to deal on the sale of the two Sentras. His son’s car had an engine swap that was never finished so the car did not run. The SCC car was not driven in winters but it was also believed to be not running when we first spoke. He was looking to unload the cars at a fire sale price with the stipulation that both cars had to be bought as a package deal. Fortunately for me, July is my slowest time at work so I actually had the time available to sort out the logistics of the sale. After some groveling, pleading and a little begging, I was able to convince my wife that buying two economy cars from 1991 was a smart idea and that there was a possible financial upside to the deal.
Steve and I agreed on the deal for both cars and a ton of spare parts.

The plan:

In the time that we were talking, it was found out that the SCC car would run with a jump start. The plan was then to tow the son’s car to Jim’s shop and have him get it running after hours. The non-running engine came from Jim’s old car. He did the swap on the car, but ran short on time to finish things up. He was confident that something minor was preventing the car from running. The SCC car was driven to my friend’s storage barn.

The SCC car was involved in an unfortunate front end collision with a dog last year. The short JDM front bumper and surrounding areas were all tweaked. Fortunately, the car came with a new Seibon carbon fiber hood and trunk lid, used JDM bumper, spare head lights, and grills. The cars emissions test was out of date. The parts stash included a new convertor that is needed to get installed to make the car pass the test. The car spent most of its life in sunny California so the plastic dashboard has more cracks and fault lines than the actual San Andreas. Again, a crack free replacement dash was included in the sale. The headliner has no material left on the cardboard so that will have to be addressed at some point, too.

The issue with the son’s SE-R turned out to be pretty minor. A wire to the starter was disconnected. With a new battery and some fresh tires, it was back on the road. It made the hour drive back to my condo without incident though the car had a difficult time holding an idle. The idle problem turned out to be some old and cracked vacuum lines. Once the car was finally running well, the high pressure power steering line decided to spring a leak — so that was a few hundred dollar repair. Both cars had sat outside for a number of months so they were quite dirty. I spent many hours with my Porter Cable 7424 buffer bringing the paint back to life on both cars. The paint came back nicely and both are looking shiny.

My plan is to sell the son’s car and keep the SCC car. My daily driver is a 1995 Mercedes E320 wagon with a 3.6 AMG motor swap. It is basically a running and driving project car. Three project cars together are simply too much for me to handle and way too much for the wife. The title for the son’s car just arrived so I’ve listed it for sale. I should be able to clear enough money from the sale of the one to pay for them both. The SCC car is a fairly valuable in its own right.

Just how nuts is this plan on a scale of 1-10? 1 being genius and 10 being Koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs? Would you keep both? Sell both? Sell the SCC car? Let me know.

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Where Are The Buicks Of Yesteryear? They’re Here — With Pictures Wed, 23 Oct 2013 14:30:35 +0000 88 Buick Mke Show_0006

Please welcome Jeff Stork, who comes to us from The Brougham Society with this story of an auto show and a young GM district manager, along with some great pictures. Check out his blog and Facebook page! — JB

In January of 1988, I was in my first year as the Buick Milwaukee District Sales Manager, aka “Factory Rep,” a job that entailed many tasks. Although it was primarily about obtaining enough orders to keep the factory churning- which could be a real task in a Wisconsin winter- there were numerous special assignments, one being the Milwaukee Auto Show.

88 Buick Mke Show

Today, GM Auto Shows are handled by a team out of Detroit, but back then the responsibility fell to the sales and service reps. My sales counterpart and I (who had the other half of the state) scheduled a meeting with the Milwaukee Sales Managers we and ordered the cars — looking for the right balance of models, equipment, and colors to highlight the new 1988 Buicks. We sought input from the dealers but edited some of their ideas. The service reps supervised the preparation of the show cars and then when it came time to move in, we all worked side by side.

The manager of Rank and Son Buick, a large downtown dealer, insisted that we order a Park Avenue in Platinum Beige with a red leather interior and a dark maroon top. We were skeptical, so we also ordered a back-up car in tone-on-tone Rosewood. When finally saw the car, it looked pink- there was some red in the Platinum Beige paint formula that the red leather picked up and accentuated. We were pretty shocked and ended up using the back-up car, so the pink one became the property of the dealer who suggested it.

And it’s worth remembering at the line itself had undergone a massive transition in a few short years. In 1981, there was only one Buick with front wheel drive- the Riviera luxury coupe, but by 1988 only the Estate Wagon was RWD — and the balance of the entire line were unibody FWD offerings.

It’s a great snapshot of the 1988 Buick line- a sporty Skyhawk coupe, a sensible Skylark sedan and a Quad 4 Skylark Limited coupe with composite headlamps, a two-tone Century Limited sedan and a price leader four-cylinder Custom, the all new W-Body Regal coupe was represented by a black Custom, a ruby red Limited and a white Z-13 Sport Coupe which was rechristened Gran Sport about the same time as the show opening. Leather had just been released for the Le Sabre Limited so we showed one, we put cloth in a tone-on-tone Rosewood Park Avenue and displayed a Platinum Beige Riviera with the new factory Landau top.

There were two brand new Reattas in the display- the turntable car was shipped in from Flint and the floor car was being used by the zone for sales training, so I drove it around the week before the show and the week after. I literally drove it to the Convention Center for set-up day, and then drove it right on in to the Buick exhibit. I was detailing the wheel wells when I looked over my shoulder and there was a Channel 5 cameraman. I immediately turned back to detailing.

These pictures were taken on set-up day, about two hours before the black tie charity reception that takes place the night before the show opens- that’s why there aren’t any people in the exhibit. My boss, the Assistant Zone Manager, asked me to document the exhibit for the Zone Manager who was traveling. All of the reps a great deal of pride in the exhibit. We were pretty much allowed to create and staff it on our own, so I made sure we all got a set of the prints. It’s hard for me to believe that this was twenty-five years ago.

88 Buick Mke Show_0003 88 Buick Mke Show_0009 88 Buick Mke Show_0008 88 Buick Mke Show_0002 88 Buick Mke Show_0001 88 Buick Mke Show 88 Buick Mke Show_0006 88 Buick Mke Show_0007 88 Buick Mke Show_0005 88 Buick Mke Show_0004 ]]> 120
Ur-Turn: I Bought A Mustang On A Whim Mon, 23 Sep 2013 14:24:53 +0000 IMG_1308

Back in 2009 I wrote a blog about buying a Z4M on a whim. Four years later, I’ve made another impulse buy. Prior to moving to Seattle last summer my wife and I downsized our car stable and I purchased an $8k E39 530 as my daily driver.  Given how expensive Seattle can be I didn’t want a big car payment until we got our new housing budget in check.  Finding a new place took less time than expected, and soon enough, I started the research process to lease a new vehicle for my 50 minute commute.


Being away from my shop and tools I left in Oklahoma, buying an old BMW like usual wasn’t the best option.  I looked at everything new in the mid-size lux segment–BMW 5-series, Lexus GS, Audi A6, etc.All of them leasing in the $800 monthly range.  After leaving a car show on Sunday, my wife and I stopped by a Ford dealer to look at Mustangs.  The reason why is still a little fuzzy.

Since it was a Sunday, I assumed I was safe to just browse and check out what was on the lot. It turned out that in Washington, car dealers are open on Sundays, and I was quickly intercepted by a salesman. He didn’t have to work very hard to get me into a Mustang, and one drive was all it took.  I giggled like a child as I roared through the empty streets of Tacoma, and all of a sudden, I had signed a lease. Within about an hour of taking the car home, I had already ordered a Ford Racing exhaust.

I’ve never been a muscle car guy to this point, but at a time when my beloved BMWs have efficiency stickers plastered on them, and cars are coming with start-stop systems and low rolling resistance tires I absolutely relish my American V8.  I charge down mountain roads passing hipsters in Foresters, giving them a blip and a downshift; the exhaust actually uttering the word “Merica” as I pass.

By researching Internet reviews, getting price quotes, and test driving every car in the segment, everyone likes to think they make conservative car buying decisions.  However, should you make a hasty purchase riddled with passion I’m here to let you know it’s ok. You did it because you’re a gearhead.  Could I have saved $40 a month by going home and working the phones? Sure, but then I wouldn’t get to tell the story about the time I drove a candy apple red Mustang off a showroom floor.


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Ur-Turn: “Last Rides(tm) Special Deluxe Edition” by Crabspirits Wed, 11 Sep 2013 15:15:47 +0000

From our very own “Crabspirits” comes this mid-week breaking of the fiction rules. As Anita Baker once sang, “Rules were made to be broken,” but I think of Crabspirits’ work as something beyond fiction. Myth, perhaps — JB

Marty’s world was in the process of deflagration.

The bowsprit of the ’41 Plymouth knifed through the hot summer air as it cruised down Highway 275. “It’s a real scorcher today, huh?”, asked Marty nervously as he popped open the cowl vent. The gals in the back seat remained silent, knowing they were to blame. The little scoop in front of the windshield provided little ventilation of the cabin in the face of such oppressive solar radiation. A woman’s hairstyle must be preserved at all costs. The cabin portholes shall be configured in such a manner as to not direct airflow upon the hair. Gus slyly slouched in the front seat, and contorted his body so he could deftly reach for the window crank. Marty saw it out of the corner of his eye and cracked a wry smile. Gus had his window ever so slowly rolled down to the mostly open mark when his action was noticed. “Stoppppp!”, yelled Beth, hitting him from behind with her purse.

“You got too greedy.”, Marty told him. Marty glanced at his mirror to see if there were any signs Jennifer enjoyed this humor. She only sat there, checking her hair with her compact.

“What a dish.”, he dreamed. Her hair really was beautiful, almost worth stewing in your own juices to protect. It was a meticulously-crafted sculpture of flowing blonde waterfalls and bangs, cemented in place by hairspraying into a gelatinous crisp. All she needed was the Mattel sticker. As he worked his mirror to catch a better glimpse, he noticed the beehive-encrusted Beth staring right into his eyes. It made him quickly focus his attention back to the road. Up ahead was a silver coach bus, belching diesel smoke. The noise was deafening as they passed the lumbering machine. Seated inside were men of fighting age, none of which looked to be too happy. Marty thought of how closely it resembled another vehicle they had just passed, a cattle truck. “Straight to the slaughterhouse.”, he thought. He began to dwell on the letter still sitting on the kitchen table at home. The vent window was manipulated to direct a little more air to himself. Marty relaxed with a sigh, and placed his hand at the twelve’o’clock position above the Plymouth badge. “Fu@k ‘em. (The establishment)”

Gus clicked on the radio, and began to pound on the chrome facade. “No.”, said Marty. “Like this.” He gave the lower portion of the dashboard an open-palmed slap. The vibrator inside the power supply activated, releasing The Beatles trapped within. A quarter mile behind the Super Deluxe convection oven was another car full of youngsters.

“Is that Marty up ahead?” asked William from behind the wheel of the Mercury. Fred took a pause from heavy petting with his girl in the back seat to observe.

“Yes, I believe it is.”, he replied with a devilish grin, knowing full well that the situation would develop into some sort of prank. The Monterey lingered out of visual range behind the Plymouth.

“I have asked General Westmoreland, what more he needs…”, said William in his best LBJ impersonation “…and we will meet those needs.” The other occupants in the car were puzzled until Will reached under his seat. He produced a brown paper bag, and said, “This calls for Operation Rolling Thunder!” He handed the sack back to Fred to inspect. “Gee-miny crickets! That’s a lot of firepower!”

As soon as the nervous words: “What are you guys gonna do?” had left the girls’ lips, the throttles were pinned on the 427. The big boat forced an oncoming Rambler to grab some shoulder during the ill-advised overtake of the ’41 Plymouth. It blared it’s impressive horn, and spit up dust and gravel as it succeeded in a last ditch effort to avoid what would have been a horrendous 3-way crash.

“Motorhead!!”, yelled Gus, laughing. The eight unbelted youths were rather casual about the whole incident. They would have all perished for sure at that speed in a bloody heap of wreckage. They left the Rambler driver, pulled off to the side and needing a new pair of briefs, in their wake. Marty thought briefly about William’s cavalier road manners. It’s the invincibility of youth that makes the young run through flames without care. It takes something more to charge into a building in flames. William did that. He was a firefighter. Was he really courageous, or maybe a thrill seeker? Perhaps he was just an idiot. He was also signing up for ‘Nam. Marty became puzzled at how a lifesaving firefighter could drive like a total ass like that.

William proclaimed that he was “Opening bomb bay doors”, and powered down the Breezeway rear window. The sudden gust of air tore the girls’ hairstyles asunder, and produced screams. Marty chuckled and said,

“Well, this doesn’t look good.”, while looking out the double-paned windshield. Fred lit a device and tossed it over the long trunk of the Monterey. Marty drove over it, and it crackled behind them. Another strip of Black Cats were lit and tossed. Fred’s shot hit home and the firecrackers stuck to the grill in comedic fashion. Tiny bombs detonated by the A-pillar and windshield while 4th of July, 1966 was celebrated on the front of Marty’s car. Cordite smoke and bits of paper were drawn into the cabin.

Everyone laughed, even Jennifer, saying “That’s a gas.” The Mercury lurched twice, then accelerated away at full throttle, leaving Marty and friends in a toxic grey plume.

“Cripes a’mighty! That thing moves!”, yelled Gus. Marty tossed his expended bottle out the window, and responded “Now that’s a machine.” Marty had floored the Plymouth when the Mercury took off, but it was imperceptible by everybody else. “Anybody want another?”, Gus offered, pulling another Falstaff from the metal cooler. All accepted.

The Plymouth set pulled off the road. The compliant, undamped suspension glided over the rough gravel and terrain as they made their way towards the swimmin’ hole. Marty’s slightly faded grey 40′s ride saddled up next to the shiny new black Monterey. Its passengers had already disembarked. “You’ve burnt my seat you nimrod!”, Will yelled at Fred. The two were hanging out of the rear doors, inspecting the car’s first injury. They were hoping a little spit would restore the singed material where a rogue piece of fuse had fallen. Marty slowed to a stop with a hearty brake squeal. As everyone climbed out of his car, Marty sat there idling. If there was one thing his car could do well, it would be idling. The engine revolved at a rocksteady state. It was smooth, and silent. Marty imagined the car being sold just before the world fell to pieces in ’41. The cigar-chomping, fedora-clad salesman would have surely used it as a selling point. “Wouldja look at that? Smooth as a baby’s butt. And you gotta get the radio. A radio in your car! You haven’t lived!” Now back to the present, Marty shut down and went to the Merc to gawk for a 3rd time.

“Any survivors?”, asked Fred. “You guys are jerks, my ear is still ringing.”, Marty laughed. The guys talked cars over some beers while the girls surveyed the water’s edge.

“No A/C?”

“No. Not on the R-code. Can’t handle the power.”

“My god.”, he thought. Will’s pop had pulled some strings at the dealership. He got the R-code motor into a pedestrian Breezeway model. A choice that baffled him initially, he now saw the wisdom behind it. The car was a menacing sleeper. Many chuckleheads would fall to it’s sword. Will explained he had gone to Pikes Peak three years prior. He and his pop had seen Parnelli Jones dominate the competition with a Mercury much like this. Marty had seen these hill climbs on Wide World Of Sports, and in Hot Rod Magazine. It was a trip. The disparity between the two cars was growing miles by the minute. The Plymouth was still in okay shape inside and out though. It wasn’t a total jalopy. He could do much worse for a guy his age. At least he had a radio….sometimes. “Is that an 8-track player? Far out.”

The conversation shifted, as it usually did, to the war. The guys discussed their views, and personal strategies. Team Breezeway was going to Vietnam, and Team Deluxe was wholeheartedly unenthusiastic. Marty explained that he had seen a sympathetic doctor who had fudged the report on his physical. Something had gone awry however, and he still ended up with the dreaded notice in the mailbox. “Well, if you don’t believe in the cause, then I suppose that’s your right, and you should bail if you want.”, said Will. The cool comment was ever so slightly underhanded, and had a tinge of macho. It was at this time that Gus dropped a bomb of his own. He had dropped out of school.

“You did WHAT?”, said Marty.

“Haha, you were 2-S…were.”, said Fred.

“Well that was stupid.”, said Will before smoothly hoisting the bottle of Storz to his lips.

A look of dread was on Gus’s face behind the black-framed spectacles. As team Merc split to find their female companions, Marty invented the facepalm. On the other hand, he was slightly relieved. Now his best friend was with him in the same boat. “Come on man, let’s go in the water.”

Jennifer stood waist deep in the water, toying the surface with her fingers. The sun shined through the trees, bathing her in a heavenly glow. What he wouldn’t give to re-enact the beach scene from From Here To Eternity right now. “What a dish.”, Marty said as he scrutinized her bikini-clad shape.

Gus replied, “Yeah. You think I have a chance?”

“Uhhhh, sure.” Marty was stunned by this revelation. He thought Gus told Beth to invite Jennifer for him. “Thanks for salting the earth on that one buddy.”, he said to himself. He waded over to Beth to run some interference for his pal. The two struck some awkward conversation. “Man, it’s hot today.” She looked at him with doe eyes, retorting with

“Yeah, it must be 100, at least.” Beth segued into complaining about how the humidity damaged her hair.

“This is such a drag.”, he thought. He had to do something to at least change the situation. Derailing her affection to him might be a plus as well. “Well then you won’t mind if I do this!”, he said as he doused her completely with a childlike splash. Beth gasped as water dripped off her wrecked beehive.

“Jerk!” She gave him a playful shove, and delivered a girly punch retaliation. Beth’s smooth skin brushed over him. Suddenly, this girl wasn’t so bad after all.

Beer depleted, and succumbing to exposure after hours of summer fun, the group all agreed they should leave. “Let’s split. We should go downtown, and catch a flick.”, suggested Fred. “At least it’s air conditioned.” It was a solid plan. Everybody piled into the two cars. Marty depressed the starter pedal. The 6 volts slowly cranked the engine to life, and they set out for the road. The Mercury waited for the mopar to line up next to them. Marty jokingly accepted the challenge. He gave the Mercury driver a “You’re going down” gesture, and blipped the little six. Will sat there with a look of feigned fear as his V8 burbled. Fred yelled the countdown, and they were off. Inside the Plymouth, Marty dumped the clutch. The old car lurched and then bogged through first gear. Marty worked the column shift into second with a click, and dumped the clutch violently. At this time, the Monterey stopped facetiously keeping pace next to them. Will pinned the throttles and utterly destroyed them, trailing dual black streaks, and rubber smoke from his 30mph roll. The couple in the back seat waved goodbye through the slanted rear window.

Now underway, Marty stayed out of firing range of Fred’s Saturn Missile batteries. Air swirled in the cabin. Thankfully, the windows could now be allowed to roll down completely. The smell of mohair wetted by damp swimsuits wafted past their senses. Beth seemed to be enjoying his company on the front bench. The kinda-sorta attraction was there between them. She wasn’t girlfriend material though. “Bummer Beth” dated one of his good friends last year. Marty recalled all the miserable details he had told him about her. Such was life in a small circle of friends. It would look bad if anything came of it. Jennifer was unresponsive to Gus’s advances in the back seat. She looked vacantly out the window. Marty gave the dashboard the slap of motivation and powered up the radio to provide some Top 40 atmosphere. As they rode into Omaha, kids played in the hydrants. Sounds of fireworks echoed through the buildings. Marty deftly operated the clutch pedal. The engagement could be rather mean if you didn’t pay attention. He slowly slipped it out after every shift. The brakes did their thing, emitting a shrill squeak on every stop. Quiet brakes were a novel thing on cars of the the 40′s apparently, judging by the rapidly-depleting sample they knew. They disembarked at the theater, and went inside as fireworks crackled in the distance.

Everybody was laughing as they exited the theater. They had seen Assault On A Queen. Fred had lit a firecracker during the torpedo scene. Another patron had “Shhh’d” him in response, to great humor. Gus was sporting a hand print on his face, courtesy of Jennifer. Their levity was short-lived. Numerous cherry-topped Ford Galaxies full of the fuzz roared one after the other down the street, and made their hasty way north, sirens blaring. The gang spilled out onto the sidewalk to take a look. A veil of dark smoke hung in the evening sky, illuminated by the flickering orange glow of obscured hellfire. They overheard the theater manager talking to his employees after getting off the phone.

“It’s bad. Real bad. They are burning everything.”


“The Negroes!” North O was ablaze. The powers that be had put the blacks in their little pressure cooker, and now there would be some venting, perhaps an explosion. Marty sympathized with the blacks.

“This is how the establishment handles it’s minions. Gotta keep them under a thumb.”, he thought. He wondered what abysmal future they had in store for him. “Shall I accept their invite to their little party in Southeast Asia to go play commie hunter? Perhaps we will wait for the other shoe to drop from the Reds in an H-bomb explosion? Maybe they would just be content to let the country tear itself to pieces from the inside out?” Will piped up,”This is hairy guys. Let’s beat feet. It looks like I need to get to work.” The gang piled into their respective automobiles to the background din of sirens whipping the air. Marty depressed the starter pedal, and the flathead six cranked for an unusually long time. Distracted, he had forgotten to add some choke. He pulled on the knob, and tried again. The cranking was labored now. “Oh please girl, don’t let me down now.”, he began to dread. The spectre of running out of 6volt juice in a 12volt world in the middle of a riot instantly popped in his head. Just as he was entertaining the idea of accepting the collateral damage of blown out instruments and electronics by getting a jump from the Mercury, a pump of the gas pedal spurred the old girl to life.

It was rather quiet on the drive home. Marty slapped on the radio. The crackling prehistoric speaker struggled to replicate the organ, and fuzzy tremelo sounds of Don’t Bring Me Down by the Animals. All in the Plymouth just sat and listened, staring out the window into the night like space cadets. Jennifer was more than happy to be dropped off first. She said her goodbyes to Beth, and then went inside. Marty’s opinion of her had changed after observing her all day. “What a stick in the mud.”, he thought.

He dropped off Gus, and he departed with a “We need to talk. Call me tomorrow.”

“You can count on it. Later.”, said Marty as he put the car in gear. The Plymouth pulled away from the curb.

“So, where is your place?”, he asked Beth. She had a cigarette in her mouth and was preoccupied with a futile search for the cigarette lighter. “It doesn’t have one.”, Marty declared, slightly embarrassed. He fished a Zippo from his pocket, and gave the lady a hand. The atmosphere had become rather uneasy now that the two were alone, compounded by Sinatra belting out Strangers In The Night. The songs on the radio had a nasty habit of resonating messages lately. He felt himself sweat. He wanted to turn it off, but that would have meant acknowledging it. Beth took a long drag from her cig and glanced casually at the Super Deluxe badge on the radio grill. “So much for hoping she didn’t notice.”, he thought. He asked her a second time, “Where is your house?”

She exhaled seductively, and replied “What if I don’t want to go home?” The steady cadence of the inline six skipped a beat as Marty responded to this rather upfront revelation briefly with his pedal foot. He nervously lit a cigarette of his own, feeling like panicked prey in the presence of such a sexually aggressive female. It was something he had never encountered before. “I suppose we could park for a bit.” As soon as the flathead was silenced behind the deserted grain elevator, Beth made her move. She pounced on top of him. The couple were suddenly startled from their lust by the Plymouth’s deafening twin horns. Beth lifted her derrière from the horn ring and laughed. They exited the vehicle, where Marty politely opened the suicide door for his ladyfriend. The juvenile fantasy he envisioned so often when he first got this car as a teen, was now about to become a reality.

The chrome ship once again cruised through the night air. The experience had been regrettable for both parties. Smells of cigarettes, mohair, and sex radiated from the back seat. Brake squeals announced the chariot’s arrival at Beth’s residence. “Well, I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah.”, answered Marty. He pulled away, clicking off the radio for the first time in recent memory. He was sick of it. “What the hell just happened!?”, he yelled to himself, banging the cracked steering wheel. There would certainly be some fallout from this little tryst. He concentrated on the soothing drone of the engine, and tried to forget about the rendezvous. A june bug arched through the dim beam of his headlights, terminating in oblivion on the flat windscreen. He felt sympathy for it. As he pulled into the drive, he killed the engine and let the car roll to a stop. His old man was found asleep in the lounger, watching the indian head test pattern on the black and white set. Marty walked past his induction notice on the kitchen counter, noting that it had been disturbed. “From the President of the United States”, it read. He fabricated with his imagination the ludicrous sight of Johnson himself, with Westmoreland, hand-picking him from a list . “Next we have Marty Stinson. He looks like a real go-getter. Sign ‘em up!” There was no longer any doubt. He had made his decision. There would be hell to pay in the morning. For now, there would be sleep.

By high noon the next day, the inevitable argument with Marty’s parents had run it’s course. The metaphorical mushroom cloud was swirling in the stratosphere over the family homestead. His father, a veteran of the Korean war, would have none of this. “I will have none of this!”, he would go on to say, “No son of mine is going to be a draft-dodger!” Hurtful things were said by both father and son that would take time to heal. The Plymouth was laden with most of Marty’s meager belongings, and that was that. He fed a dime into the phone booth at the service station.

When Gus answered, he put it simply. “I hear California’s really swell this time of year.” Gus was speechless for a moment, then said,

“Bummer man. Yeah, that sounds like a solid plan. Let’s cut outta here. Pick me up in twenty.” The third tier backup plan of leaving Omaha entirely was now in effect, with very little drama. Gus tossed his clothes, all dirty, into the trunk. “We’re gonna need this.”, he said, carefully placing his guitar in the back seat. The two closed the doors of the solid automobile and looked at each other. They felt electric.

“I get good vibes.”, said Marty, punctuating the comment with the starter pedal.

They stopped at the bank to get their scratch, and then fueled up. “Where exactly are we going?”, laughed Gus, handing Marty a bottle of Coke. While the attendant fueled, the boys studied a map on the hood of the Plymouth.

Marty brandished a half-dollar with a grin. “Heads:L.A., tails:San Fran.” He flicked the coin. “L.A. it is.” While scrutinizing the route, Marty declared “Oh man, looks like we’ll have to take a little detour on the way.” Gus grinned like an idiot, and popped his eyebrows in approval. The bow of the hood ornament was pointed due west. Soon, the boys were as far from home as they had ever been. “This new interstate is so boss!” The car was droning along at a steady 65mph. Marty had never driven so far, so fast. The suspension floated over the smooth roadway. Although they were moving at a steady clip, the longer, lower, and wider were passing them in an endless procession. Marty didn’t want to push the old girl. He had never heard her sound so loud. It was somewhat unnerving.

Gus noted, “We are almost to Lincoln already.” Marty squinted at the windshield.

“What’s that up ahead-oh nuts.” Chrome glinted in the late afternoon sun, stretching for miles, as I-80 merged to a single lane. They had slowed to a crawl behind the menacing tail lights of a Polara. Road crews were busily crafting the state route into the magnificent, efficient roadway they had just experienced. The sweaty men shined in the hot sun. They worked feverishly, scraping and shoveling molten road into place with pride. Marty admired their work ethic. He wouldn’t be able to do that for eight hours a day. It had now been half an hour spent crawling behind the Polara. “She’s getting a little hot.”, said Marty. Gus observed the temperature gauge, creeping past the 212 mark into the danger zone. They pulled off to the side behind a stricken Corvair. It’s driver had opened the engine cover, and he was removing his tie. The boys opened the squeaky hood of the Plymouth to allow the steaming mass of metal some respite. A stationwagon with luggage on it’s roof slowly rolled past.

The freckle-faced punk in the back seat yelled “Scuzz bucket!”, before being promptly smacked in the head by it’s mother. Marty and Gus chatted with the man in the air-cooled Chevy. He was a vacuum cleaner salesman. Fortunately for them, he had nowhere to plug in a vacuum.

After an hour spent by the roadside venting, the lads were back on the road with their extra passenger. They dropped the salesman off in town, and wished him godspeed with his missing fan belt. The traffic had alleviated after passing Lincoln, and an approaching storm had cooled things off. Gus slapped on the radio. “You’re finally getting the hang of it.”, said Marty. Large droplets began pelting the windshield, and Marty was thankful that he had replaced the faulty vacuum wiper motor when he did. He reached up to the base of the windshield to call it to duty. They were suddenly in the thick of it. The sky turned coal black, and The Beatles were drowned out by the cacophony of torrent vs tin.

Marty cut his speed drastically. “This is bad.” To say the wipers struggled would be an understatement. Their vision would have been about the same as a submarine’s while breaching the surface. The puny blades wobbled erratically to and fro, swimming. Marty hit the dimmer switch with his foot. It was a scant improvement in visibility. He dropped the column shifter down into second, and became fearful of being rammed from behind. Nobody would have been able to see their puny tail lights. Not in this soup. Fortunately, the generic, quad round headlamp array that was behind them a moment ago had disappeared. “Rats! A hill.”, he moaned. The wipers were quickly demoralized as the sedan climbed the steep grade. Marty lifted his foot briefly as they ascended to feed vacuum to the motor, getting a few good wipes.

Gus put in an effort to assist. He stuck his head out the window, but was immediately blinded, and pulled his drenched head back inside. “Maybe we should just pull over.”, said a very wet Gus. Finally, the road had leveled off. However, Marty had gotten so distracted by Gus’s antics, that he had lost sight of the center line in the gentle turn. He felt the tires on the right side drop off the roadway and crunch gravel. The right front found itself a pothole, blowing out the tire. Handling was upset severely when the suspension dropped. Marty was abruptly faced with a decision, roll the car, or careen wildly off the road into the unknown. They drove into the ditch with the tire flopping limp on the rim. Marty buried his foot in the brake pedal. The car accelerated on the wet grass. Time slowed. The wipers squeaked across the windshield. The wipe provided just enough vision for the boys to clearly make out the “Burma Shave” on the sign before it was munched by the Plymouth’s grill. The sedan slid sideways, and Marty drifted across the bench, desperately clinging to the controls. This caused a movement of the rudder to port that was not commanded, so Marty let go of the helm. Gus was evicted from his seat. He braced himself to the chrome facade of the fo’c’sle, dented it in, and slid down to the deck. A porthole crank raked his back on the way down. The great ship lifted its stern for a moment as it lurched to a stop. The guys looked at each other, eyes as wide as saucers.

“Righteous!”, said Gus, climbing back up from under the dashboard. Marty responded with,

“I didn’t think it was that cool to be honest. I thought it was the end of us.” The boys went outside, and quickly surveyed the scene in the dim glow of the headlamps. Water splashed back and forth on the windshield. The tire was crumpled around the rim. They were quickly soaked, and darted back into the car. “I guess this is about as good a place as any to call it a night.”, said Marty. Gus climbed into the back seat. As they lay there in the crippled Plymouth, listening to the rain on the metal roof, Gus began laughing. “What!?”, asked Marty.

“Hahaha…Burma Shave. Hahaha.”

Marty countered with, “You could say it was a…close shave.” They both laughed themselves to sleep.

The boys awoke the next morning to the sound of the passing freight train on the other side of the highway. The night spent in the Plymouth was actually pretty comfortable, save for being suddenly roused during the night by a bolt of lightning landing a few hundred feet away. They climbed out of their wounded steed. Birds were chirping all around, enjoying the aftermath of the storm. They laughed at the scars they had left on the ground. Four deep furrows were carved through the muddy soil. They joined into two grassy smears leading up to the highway. A chrome dog dish and the destroyed sign, the last of a series of four, lay off to each side. Gus picked up the hubcap, and dumped out the water. “I almost want to take it with us, as a souvenir.”, said Marty, inspecting the crumpled advertisement with his foot. The sun rose over the horizon creating a beautifully painted orange and purple sky. Standing water in the ditch lapped at the disabled wheel. In the trunk, Marty moved his belongings out of the way, to obtain the jack and cross wrench. Trying to break the lugs loose, their shoes slipped in the mud and diced with the water. They resorted to removing them entirely, rolling up their pant legs, and wading in. Confusion arose regarding which way to turn the wrench. “The nuts turn the other way on this side.” “Noooo, that’s the other side dork! It’s my car. I know which way it goes.” After a bit of a struggle, a fastener relented, and one of the lads was vindicated to smug satisfaction.

Gus placed the jack under the front bumper, and worked it’s ratchet with the supplied lever. His efforts simply drove the base deep into the muddy soil. “HA! That’s reeealll nice.”, he cackled at his folly. After shoring up the base with the Burma Shave sign, he was able to lift the machine skyward.

“Wait till you get a load of this.”, said Marty from the trunk. Gus popped his head up from the front. “Don’t even tell me…” Marty had extracted the spare from the trunk to reveal a bulging bubble in it’s sidewall, cartoonish in appearance. The car’s previous owner had presumably swapped it out, and left it for them to experience. In spite of their setbacks, the guys were enjoying their newfound free and adventurous lifestyle. “Well…let’s throw it on.”, Marty laughed.

The Special Deluxe spun it’s tires for traction, slowly extracting itself from the ditch. It hobbled down the Lincoln Highway at a steady 30mph, with it’s cartoon tire hopping up and down on the pavement. They limped into Ogallala, Nebraska, the “Cowboy Capital”. Some kids playing near the old west-themed tourist trap pointed at them and laughed. Gus hopped up and down on the seat, yelling “Ohh, ohhh, can we go?!” sarcastically. The grey sedan pulled into the Sinclair service station, where an old-timey mechanic assisted them. “Well, I can re-shoe her for twenty bucks.” The boys groaned, pondering the bad pun. The mechanic squirted the ground with tobacco spittle, some of which ran down his chin, and was quickly wiped by a shirt sleeve. He continued, “I might have something used in the back off the ole cab.” Marty forked over five dollars for the latter option. The technician returned twenty minutes later, rolling out the bright yellow wheel and half-worn tire, scavenged from a smashed ’48 Desoto taxi. Marty held his head in his hands. Gus laughed.

The yellow rim was a big hit on the highway. Nearly every station wagon they passed contained a vacationing horde of little brats who pointed, and mocked them. They passed a dark blue Econoline pickup. The door was emblazoned with a U.S. Air Force stencil and serial number. Gus observed the vehicle as they passed. With a mouthful of sandwich, he stated, “They keep the missiles out here.” Marty looked at the picturesque Nebraska landscape filling his windscreen. He superimposed with his vivid imagination, a Minuteman ICBM suddenly emerging from below ground, climbing skyward on a white column of smoke on it’s way to snuff out millions of Reds. Marty pulled the tab on the can of Old Milwaukee sitting in his lap, and hurled the pull-tab out the open window. He took a hearty sip…to forget. Gus picked up on the uneasiness. “Let’s listen to the radio.” He slapped the dash, and California Dreamin’ began to play. The mood changed in an instant. The boys went ape, and began to groove to the tune of a song that seemed to be crafted just for them. Marty swerved back and forth across the highway, singing with his companion. He danced with the tiller of the Plymouth as if it were his gal. He was having so much fun, that it took some time before he noticed the revolving light of The Man in his little round mirror. Marty pulled off to the shoulder, and silenced the radio.

The patrolman dismounted his Ford and approached the misfit driver. “What’s with the wild swerving? Are you guys on reefer?!”

“No sir.”, Marty stammered, “We were just really into some music, and well…” He stopped, as he really didn’t know how to explain the situation to such a stodgy public safety figure.

“You know that’s illegal right?”, boomed the officer, pointing at the beer can sitting in his crotch. “Pour it out.” Marty complied, dumping the can’s contents onto the pavement. “Now keep it in your lane.” With that, the cop returned to his cruiser and sped off.

“What a bummer.”, Gus commented. “I can’t believe he made you dump it.”

They had finally bid Nebraska adieu. Marty switched the radio back on. Amazingly, it powered up on it’s own accord. Gus pushed the preset buttons in vain. He worked the manual AM tuner knob and got a faint signal of music. Most everything else was gospel. “Don’t they play rock’n’roll around here?” Gus pulled the crumpled map from the floorboard, and compared it to some passing bullet-riddled road signs. “You’re gonna make a left up ahead.”, he said, before working the AM dial once again. Marty made his turn on the dirt farm road. Gus got a good signal, and a sickeningly familiar Beatles tune began to play. “There, that’s better.” They had driven many miles on the dusty road. It had been half an hour since they had seen another car. The boys were hungry, and the Plymouth, thirsty. The sun hung low in the sky. After taking a few gambles on some promising stretches of road, they realized they were lost. Gus studied the map. “I think we’re somewhere over here.” Gus showed Marty his dead reckoning guess on the map, pointing at the smiling and saluting Esso mascot that obscured much of what they needed to see.

“His leg, or his smile?”, said Marty as he angrily brushed the paper aside. “We don’t have the fuel for this!” He turned the bow of his ship 180° into the heavy sun, and punched the gas pedal. A single rooster tail of gravel shot out behind them. He waylaid his navigator with criticism. Accusations manifested into a full-fledged argument. Then, the radio died. The argument was paused as both parties attempted to slap it back to life. Marty braced his arm to the vent window in despair while Gus continued to beat the metal dash like a caveman. He sighed, and stated somberly, “It’s gone. Probably blew a tube or something.” The sound of rocks clinking inside metal fenders, and their sputtering six was the only thing providing the atmosphere now.

“What’s that?”, said Gus happily. Up ahead, a headlight bounced as it traversed rough terrain. A tractor. Another human soul. Marty clicked his dimmer switch to signal whomever it was in the dusk. They pulled off along the fence line and waited for the puttering tractor to approach. An older, grey-haired woman sat high on the John Deere. Its exposed flywheel whirled on the side as it idled. She removed her glasses, and wiped away the wheat chaff as she addressed the boys.

“Let me guess. You’re lost.”

Marty responded, “M’am, we are lost, AND out of gas.”

The woman advised the lads, “Well, there’s a Pure about twelve miles back the way you came, but it’ll probably be closed by the time you get there. In the meantime, you’re welcome to spend the night here.” She looked out at the combine emerging from the field. “Looks like we’re calling it a day anyway.”

Marty and Gus graciously accepted her offer. “You’re a saint!” The car sputtered, barely completing the slow procession back to the farm house. Their generous hosts introduced themselves as Martha and Jim. Jim climbed down from the open controls of the combine. “That one looks just like Kevin’s.”, he said, pointing at the Plymouth. “His don’t have the yellow wheel though.”, he continued with a smirk. They cleaned up, and Martha cooked up a meal that would be remembered for years. Kevin sat overwatch in his portrait on the wall as a fresh-faced Air Force cadet. He was at the Academy down in Colorado Springs apparently. Over supper, the conversation focused on the road trip to California. The boys omitted, and actively avoided the part about fleeing the call of duty from their nation. Although, the shot-in-the-dark strategy of their journey was called into question.

“What are you gonna do when you get there? You don’t got no place to stay or nothin?” Marty was mentally grasping at straws. He said the first thing that came to mind. Something he felt would pull at the heartstrings of country folk. Something he actually believed.

“Well, we’re at God’s mercy. We go where the Plymouth takes us. It helped us find you, didn’t it?” There was an uneasy hiatus in Jim and Martha’s response. Then Jim went into the kitchen to fetch “The good stuff”.

“This is The Good Stuff. We’ve been saving it for company, but company never comes. Seems like as good a time as any.” He placed the nondescript bottle of grog on the table. The rest of the night was a blur of dirty limericks and Scrabble.

Marty awoke partially confused in the strange bedroom. Ribbons hung from the wardrobe. Trophies adorned the desk. None of them were his. He crawled out of Kevin’s bedsheets, and curiosity got the better of him. Sunbeams lit the artifacts of a good son. Intrigued, he may have gone too far by opening the desk. Inside was a love letter, presumably from the blonde bombshell pictured in the school dance photograph that was taped to the mirror. Marty wondered what life would be like as “Martin”, the name his father bestowed upon him and continued to use. He hated that. The more he pondered, the more empty he felt. Loss, disappointment, confusion, a spectrum of emotions flowed through him as he sat on the chair. He sat there for awhile, staring at the picture of Kevin and his father posing with the aftermath of some fishing trip. The look on Jim’s face oozed pride in his son. The biggest bass he had ever seen hung from Kevin’s grasp. The kid had it all.

Downstairs, Gus was still on the couch. His Gibson B-25 still hung around his neck. “You got a little something right here.”, Marty said, as he motioned to his face.

Gus brushed the Scrabble letter “A” piece from his face, saying, “They woke me up so early.” He then resumed his slumber. Marty ventured outside, and stretched. Jim and Martha approached from the field on their farm machinery. Martha waved as she passed on her way to deliver the cash crop to the grain elevator, and Jim pulled up on his harvester. He showed Marty to the barn. Inside, lay a Plymouth P11 in a state of slumber. Cobwebs complemented it’s olive drab paint scheme, just about the only thing shining in the orange glow of the morning sun. Even the aluminum trim on the rear haunch, missing from Marty’s, was painted.

“This here, was a staff car during the big one.”, Jim would go on to say, “No telling who rode in it. It’ll probably be worth something some day.”

Marty replied in a rather reserved, and doubtful manner, “Yeah.” He admired it’s blackout accoutrements for a moment, and then left the barn. Gus was finally ready to face the day, and came out of the house with his guitar.

“I reckon five gallons should get you to the filling station.”, Jim offered, “Go ahead and fill up.” Marty put five gallons into the Plymouth from the standup tank. He tried to pay the man for the fuel, but he sternly refused. “No, don’t worry about it.”, he said. Jim and Martha waved through the dust as the Plymouth departed down the dirt driveway. Gus was behind the wheel. He refrained from being his usual chatty self, knowing something was off with his buddy this morning. Marty was very quiet, sitting on the unfamiliar passenger side as he reflected. He thought the determined Mayflower hood ornament, sailing forward in a sense of discovery, was profound in the extreme. They were pilgrims themselves, in search of their own Plymouth Rock…, in search of themselves. His focus returned.

Marty followed the couple’s directions to the letter on the way to the filling station. They pulled up to the single pump, and waited for about 30 seconds. “Are we supposed to pump it ourselves?”, Gus scoffed.

An old geezer waddled out of nowhere. “Fill’er up?”, he asked. His cavity-riddled mouth smiled politely behind grizzly facial hair. Marty gave the attendant a hearty tip, and asked for directions to the road into Denver. “Head to that intersection over yonder, then make a left.” Marty and Gus then saddled up at the station’s attached Diner, ate a generous breakfast, and headed out. Now back on course, Marty pulled the hand throttle once again to maintain speed. With their radio out of service, the steady drone of the inline six added an extra element of monotony. They passed a burning Beetle on the roadside. It instigated an hour long conversation in review. The boys called up every amusing detail of the young man they saw frantically trying to beat the fuel fire out with a shirt as they drove by. Gus reached behind the seat and fished out his Gibson.

“I knew this would come in handy.”, he said as he began to pluck the strings. Gus started off with an improvised remake of a classic. “Get your kicks on Route 6.” Then, the minstrel strummed another remake. This one, an ode to their plucky automobile, was sung ominously in Marty’s face.

You’re the kind of car
you see in certain dismal junkyards
But you’re still running, just not very loud
Driving up and down the boulevards

Betty, it seems to me you have seen
Too many miles in 25 years
Marty packs spare ignition points
Because of that time you gave him tears
Your brakes better stop-HEY! What’s that sound?

Here it comes, here it comes
Here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your 19th breakdown!

Marty shook his head. “Hey man, respect the wheels. She’s not a bad car.” Marty gave the metal dash a loving pat. “And her name is Betsy.” Gus continued to craft more songs for the better part of an hour. His satirical lyrics mainly focused on VW’s on fire, Marty’s love life (“You know about that already?!”), and The Man.

They were greeted in Denver by the snarl of I-25′s construction. “What the hell is this?”, said Marty. He pointed out a big rig truck with confused body language. It’s driver made an aggressive and frustrated lane change to the right. He used half of his 18 gears to do so with his heavy load. The huge two-stroke diesel V8 assaulted their senses. The driver appeared to hang on for dear life as the flat-faced, CB antenna-adorned cab bucked wildly over the front axle from the torque. Mustangs scattered like their namesake, and the truck exited.

“Rats.”, said Gus, upon seeing the congestion up ahead. A well worn big-toothed Buick taildragger belched sickening blue smoke in their faces as it neared the end of it’s life cycle. Toxic fumes poured out freely from tailpipes everywhere. The boys were caught in Denver’s infamous “Mouse Trap”. A bubble helicopter hovered over the scene, observing a trail of overheating men and machinery as it waited for an eternity in the hot sun. The boys sat, sweated on the side of the jammed highway with the Plymouth cooling off once again, and drained their packs of Lucky Strikes.

At the front of the congestion, a finned Cadillac with a smashed fender fared far better than it’s driver. Recovery trucks dragged the bloody, chrome machine off to the side. The critically injured driver was tossed into the back of a Pontiac station wagon, and whisked away, siren blaring. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”, said Marty in regards to the traffic jam, as they passed the carnage.

Once they were free of the Denver city limits, the lads started to make good time on the way down to Colorado Springs. They passed several trailered racing machines that had, no doubt, left Pikes Peak. The two young men had never strayed outside their home state. The Colorado landscape changed drastically outside the passenger window. Mountains rose impressively into the sky. Each consecutive one was mistaken for their destination. “No way. That one HAS to be Pikes Peak.” They arrived in Colorado Springs just as their stomachs began to growl. They pulled into a drive-in for some burgers and malts. The lot was full of weary racing enthusiasts wearing the essential paraphernalia, sitting in their cars gobbling down grub.

A delightful server skated up to take their order. A pro at extracting tips from young males, she worked her goods in a subtle manner and made small talk. “You guys come for the races?”, she asked.

“No, we just got here. We’re driving up to the top today.”, answered Marty with an undertone of bravado. The girl set the tip of her skate on the running board in a sexy attempt at a leg display. She noticed it’s hardened vulcanized rubber coating crackling off onto the ground as she did so. While jotting down their order, she thought “These guys are fresh if they think this heap is gonna make it.” Before skating off, she gave them some advice.

“Well, make sure you have plenty of fuel. It’s a long drive. No gas up there honey.” The boys compensated the waitress handsomely for the “honey” comment. They left, taking her advice to heart. The Mobil gas station was unusually ornate. Banners saying “Pikes Peak Hill Climb” fluttered on it’s facade. The Plymouth confidently pulled up to the “Special” pump. An attendant in a sparkling white uniform ran up. Marty barked orders.

“Fill’er up. Hi-test. Check the oil.” The attendant unscrewed the cap on the Plymouth’s flank, and began servicing it with the finest high-grade leaded gasoline.

He inspected under the hood, reporting “You’re about two quarts low.” Marty was surprised, and told the young man to

“Top it off.” He stopped him before he pierced the top of the store brand oil can with his opener. “Hold it. You got Kendall GT-1? I’ll take some of that.” The uniformed peer lifted an eyebrow as he pierced the tin, and spoke.

“Hopping it up, huh? You guys gonna run up the mountain?” This caught the attention of an elder mechanic in a nearby service bay.

“Yeah, we’re gonna climb that sucker.” The mechanic wiped the grease from his wrench long enough to take in the sight of these out-of-town hot shot youngsters, brimming with machismo next to the grey jalopy. It was something that happened on the regular. He replaced the 1/2″ wrench on his chest next to the rest of the set strapped to his specialized overalls. The mechanic limped up to the driver’s door. “Guess I better stop these poor fools.”, he thought to himself.

“Hey guys, this isn’t a playground. I don’t want to scold you or nothin’, but it’s pretty rough up there on that damn hill. You take anything for granted, and you’re a goner.” The boys felt the hair on the back of their necks stand straight as sense was talked into them. “When was the last time the brakes were looked at on this?”

Marty responded with a nervous “I checked them last…umm…It’s a good car.” Burger dueled with milkshake in the pits of their stomachs. The greasy sage perched on the fender, and looked at the familiar flathead six.

“Your timing’s off by the way.” He pulled out a wrench, and tweaked some advance into the distributor. The crusader then vanished back into the dark service bay like Batman. Marty paid their $7 bill, and after receiving the change, flicked the attendant a quarter. The attempt at being cool backfired. The flicked coin bounced off the fender, causing the guy to chase after it. “Thanks man. Let me get your windows.” He swiped and squeegeed the bug-spattered glass. Then, he jokingly flicked the water off the squeegee onto the bow of the Plymouth in the sign of the cross.

The Plymouth headed northwest. There was an ominous feeling now inside the car, and the boys compensated with cigarettes. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, said Gus. “Maybe we should just take the train thing.” Marty exhaled and retorted,

“Look, I got nothing to prove. But, we came here, and we’re gonna climb this sucker.” He gestured to the Impala station wagon in front of them. “Look, they’re doing it.” Little rascals waved to Gus through the tailgate window. The pavement transformed in an instant to loose, dusty gravel. The vacationers in the Chevy veered away to the welcome center, leaving the boys with an open road. Marty flicked his cig out the window within sight of Smokey Bear on a sign, and said “Here we go.” The throttle response was sharpened. The recent improvements increased the engine’s output by 1.3%, and it was totally perceptible by Marty’s right foot. He clicked the shifter into the high gear. The upcoming curve ascended, and was obscured behind forest. Marty used the brakes early, to make ready for whatever might be around the bend. They squealed with delight. An oncoming pickup came into view and then was past. The Plymouth lugged on the slight grade. “Going to have to avoid that if possible.”, Marty pondered.

He made a quick downshift, and hammered the throttle. The driveline bucked hard, and Gus laughed. The radiator fan roared as it chopped the air at high RPM. The trusty flathead labored through third as it approached the next turn. This time, the road ahead was not screened by trees, and appeared open. Gus braced himself, knowing his pal wouldn’t lift on this one till the bitter end. The sedan made a feint motion to the right, then left, then right again when Marty deftly took his foot off. The steel ass of the Plymouth swung like a pendulum and scrubbed off speed. Marty progressively smashed the gas pedal back to the floor. “Just like the roads out by the Ryerson’s, except…going up.”, he said to Gus with a devilish grin. He simply responded with a “Wahooo!” out the window.

Another gem of a left-hander lay ahead. It was dealt with in similar fashion. Gus stuck his head out the window to take in the wild sight of the yellow rim whirling at an angle in the poof of dust. Marty felt the rear tire grab an edge, and he added more steering correction in a panic. He was now out of teeth in the steering sector, and options. The rear tire jumped back onto the gravel. Marty stared death in the face in the form of a sheer plummet into dense forest. He suppressed the urge to lift from partial-throttle, and willed the tail to change course. He heard the voice of the old man in his head. “…pretty rough on that damn hill.” Miraculously, the rear tires abruptly caught traction again, and he was prepared to battle the tank-slapper that would result. His upper body strained in a battle with the unassisted steering wheel’s feedback. One of his fingers painfully jammed in the horn ring, causing an accidental beep. “Ow.” Marty resumed a sensible pace in second gear. Gus pulled his head back inside. He had noticed neither the immense peril, nor the spectacular save. Gus only noticed the abrupt change in his friend’s driving style, which he didn’t contest. He figured it had something to do with his hand. It was now bleeding.

The Plymouth clawed for altitude above the treeline. It was laboring in second gear, it’s power cut drastically already in the thin air. A swarm of moths pelted the windshield, but were simply brushed aside by the slow moving auto. Gus craned his neck all around, sometimes straight down from his door sill. “Are you seeing this?” Marty continued to concentrate on the road. The dirt road was indeed perilous, with sheer drops unprotected by any guardrail. Now, there was the extra element of traffic. Sightseers were clogging the route around the viewpoints. He leaned forward, looking almost straight up the mountainside to see the road ahead. Dust plumes climbed up in an almost impossible manner. Soon, they had reached the switchbacks, The W’s. The road was now downright terrifying, but it appeared that the Plymouth was going to make it. It wasn’t much farther to the summit. Marty made the almost 180° climbing right turn, and was suddenly presented with an incredible idiot. “Get a move on you dolt!”, he screamed at the windshield. A Valiant wagon had been pulled off to the side so it’s occupants could check out the view. It’s oblivious looky-loo driver cut Marty off. The Plymouth gasped and stalled. “Oh God!” Marty gripped the steering wheel, and stood on the brake pedal, but it was useless. The brake shoes lost their servo effect under the reversed direction. They moaned as the otherwise silent car began to slowly roll backwards towards thin air. “Man! We’re in trouble!”, Marty screamed. He made neutral, and toed the starter. “Come on Betsy.” This was it. It was start, or a deliberate crash to avoid certain death. Marty rapidly weighed his options. One of them was jumping out. The plan was rescinded when the vision included the confused look on Gus’s face, still sitting in the car as it flew over the cliff. The sound of the six coming alive startled him. He looked down at the pedals and made his first heel-toe ever in a high rpm clutch dump. The rear axle jumped up and down, spitting out gravel. The auto came to a stop moments from doom, and dug a little hole in the road. It then began moving up the hill once again, scattering rocks and dirt. They scaled the rest of the fourteener without issue. Marty kept his distance from the “dumb sonofabitch” in the Valiant.

“It would be a real shame if someone let the air out of his tire.”, suggested Gus. They observed the Valiant driver who had nearly killed them embracing his family for a picture in front of the sign indicating Pikes Peak summit.

Marty entertained the notion briefly. “Nah, he’s clueless. He probably wouldn’t even notice the flat, killing his whole family.” They switched their attention to the view around them. The rage instantly fizzled. Small storms cruised by below them. It looked as if you could scoop up the little dark clouds into a cup, and take them as a souvenir. It was humbling. The boys felt small, not just as individuals, but as human beings. Marty seized the moment to make a pastoral statement. “If only the world was run from up here…”

Gus used some oxygen-starved brain cells to add, “…there would never be any war.” Their idyllic concept was shattered by the discovery of the benign Army weather station.

“Oh look, they are up here after all.”, Marty said with dismay. “They’ll probably throw some Nike missiles up here, and fence it off.” Marty and Gus bought donuts from the gift shop, consumed them, and disagreed about the quality. The altitude manifested itself as a headache for each of them, and it was time to scram.

The boys shivered and climbed into the Plymouth. They waited for a break in the traffic flow, and followed the sewage truck down. Marty quickly became dazzled by the view. He enjoyed the second gear coast down through the W’s, but was still terrified of those turns. Each was like a ramp off into nothingness. He used extra brakes, which objected loudly, screaming like a banshee. They were descending through the third switchback, when they heard the sound of the dated brake component fail. The Plymouth spit out it’s overheated lining with a “Ka-thump”. Braking performance was drastically degraded, prompting Marty to furiously pump the pedal to slow the runaway automobile. Gus dug his fingers into the cushion of the bench seat in fright. “Use the low gear!” Marty dropped the column shifter down into first gear and dumped the clutch in a panic. The engine revved wildly, and the axle jumped up and down once again, sending gravel and dust into the air. The squealing of the brakes had now turned into a metal on metal scream, coming from the rear of the car. “This whole ‘almost dying on the mountain’ thing is getting old man.”, Gus commented. “Do you want to pull over?” Marty took note of the puzzled look on the faces of the sightseers as he slowly screamed past. “If we can get through that, then we can make it the rest of the way down, but I’ll pull off up ahead so we can check it out.” The duo stopped at the next plateau. They crawled around the car, but there was little they could see or do to improve things. Smoke, and a hideous stench fanned out of the wheel wells in the bitterly cold breeze. Time for another break to kick rocks while the car cooled off. They sat down to smoke in the high altitude, taking in the view next to the idling Plymouth.

It had taken them a considerable time to make their way down the mountain at an incredibly slow pace. They made it to the point where they almost died the first time, when another malady struck. Marty pumped the pedal for control in the descending turn. When he lifted his foot, he exclaimed “Well that’s just great.”

“Now what?”, Gus asked.

“Now, instead of not enough brake, we have too much brake. They are locked.”

“No way.” Marty tried to limp the car to the visitor’s center, but it wasn’t happening. Presented with a slight uphill, the clutch was beginning to give way, and the engine began overheating. They opened the hood, and assumed the position of a motorist in distress, sitting on the rear bumper. Marty burned his last cigarette as cars drove by on the pass. He shook his head in disgust as the Valiant wagon passed with its delighted crew. “Here we go.”, said Gus.

A two-tone Dodge van pulled up behind them and stopped. “What seems to be the problem?”, asked the man in the passenger seat. “Our brakes are totally shot. They are stuck right now.”, said Gus.

The van’s backseater piped up. “Sounds like his master is clogged up.”, he said as he pushed open the side doors. “We’re all mechanics by the way. We might be able to give you a hand. We’re bored anyway.” They introduced themselves as part of a race team that campaigned a Ford Galaxie. “We did okay, but our truck didn’t do too good.” The C750 cab over was sitting frown-faced somewhere in town, waiting for transmission parts, they explained. Marty and Gus were in awe. Cigarettes loosely dangled from the lips of the three heroes as they poured over the Plymouth like it had its own pit crew.

“Hey Dennis, have a look at this.”, said one of them, holding the cap for the master cylinder. “Oh man. You guys are lucky you made it down the mountain.”, Dennis explained as he pointed out the black sludge. “Pump the pedal.” “Nope. It’s not porting out.” There was a flurry of activity. One of them sacrificed his white t-shirt in the dirt as if it was second nature. He crawled underneath to the rear axle. “Gosh, it’s hotter than shit. Somebody hand me a half-inch flare wrench.” One of them retrieved the tool from the back of the van. “OHhhh! There it goes!”

Said the mechanical wizard under the car. “Yeah. It’s got a pressure lock alright.” He scooted himself out from under the car, and dusted off his ruined clothes. “You’re gonna need a new master cylinder. All your brakes are probably nuked too. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to replace everything on here.” Marty felt as if he had been punched in the face. Dennis felt bad for him. “Look. He released the pressure. You can probably nurse her into town if you keep it slow. …and don’t hit the brakes again. They will lock up. At least you won’t have to pay for a tow.” The boys thanked the men profusely and they parted ways.

The Plymouth slowly creeped into Colorado Springs. They did 10mph the whole way, shadowed by a rubber flap wrecker, patiently waiting for easy prey. Gus flagged cars by, and Marty kept a keen eye peeled for stray Valiant wagons that might dart out into traffic. They were now waiting sidelined again. This time, they smoked in the parking lot of the gas station. The grey ’41 sat perched atop the lift in the single service bay, sans wheels. A piece of loose friction material lay on the ground where it had fallen. The mechanic wiped his hands, and gave them the news. It was exactly as was foretold. He would indeed need everything. “It’ll take about two days to get the master.”, said the mechanic.

“Fine.”, Marty said with a disgruntled exhale. “You better get this.”, Marty told Gus at the front desk of the motel. “I’ll get the car fixed, and the huge amount of booze we’re going to drink tonight. Then, that will be it.” Even when faced with spending his entire life savings on getting the car fixed in this desperate situation, there would need to be an amount allotted to getting drunk tonight. The situation called for it. Gus acquired the room key, and they went straight to the bar down the street.

“Hey hey!!”, yelled a familiar voice after they walked in. It was Dennis and friends. They bonded more as Marty and Gus thanked them for their help with rounds. It was revealed that they were, in fact, from LA. Dennis stated jokingly, “You guys should just hop in our van!”

“Really?”, Marty asked. Dennis was taken aback slightly.

“Uhh. Yeah, sure. The offer is there.” In Marty’s inebriated state, the decision was a no-brainer. “Sounds boss man. Sure.”

The Plymouth was parked outside the shop, awaiting it’s parts the next morning. Marty and Gus transferred their personal effects into the waiting A100 van. Marty stripped the ignition key of its comrades. He held the extremely basic key in his open hand, it’s finish worn through to the brass. He remembered the day this key was first placed in his hand as if it was yesterday. He remembered what it meant to finally have his first car. Freedom. He remembered first going to see Will, and Gus, and all the other friendships it forged. He remembered sitting in the malt shoppe that first week, and just admiring it out the window. Even the things about the car he would once rather forget, would be remembered as being charming. His eyes fell to the yellow rim, and he cracked a melancholy smile. He heard a snicker, and realized Gus was standing there next to him, doing the same.

“It feels like I’m putting my dog down.”, said Gus. Marty looked at the key again as California Dreamin’ began playing from the van. He reached inside and placed it in the ignition. The emblem on the radio grill caught his eye.

“You really were special.”, he said softly out of fear of embarrassment. He shut the door and hopped in the back of the A100. The journey would go on. For the Plymouth, it was the end of the road…at least for awhile.

* * *

Marty watched the snow fall outside. It was beginning to stack up pretty thick on the vast horizontal surfaces of his Mach 1. For some subconscious reason the winter scene made him want a cigarette. He had made the decision to quit years ago. Still, it was an ongoing effort. He kept the cravings at bay by gorging on holiday leftovers, and eggnog. On the news, OPEC was tightening it’s grip. Marty’s father was livid. “We’re all gonna be driving VW’s and six cylinders!” Marty sipped his eggnog and indeed became concerned about how he was going to feed the huge beast in the driveway. Indeed, he might have to trade it in for a VW, or a Datsun. Perhaps he would just pick up an old six cylinder beater that didn’t have any of this emissions nonsense, or need to stop at a gas station every hour.

“Betcha Marty wishes he still had that old Plymouth now.”, his father laughed. Marty agreed, and took his eggnog into his old bedroom. The desk was still covered with his old football trophies, and miscellaneous trinkets. Everything was just as he left it in anger on that hot summer day. He opened the drawer, finding what he expected. He picked up the pink slip for one 1941 Plymouth sedan. It was weathered, square, and actually pink.

Marty smiled. He put the title back in the drawer and slammed it shut. “I don’t even want to know.”

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Why Can’t You Smile At The DMV? How Your Photo Is Used Without Your Knowledge Fri, 06 Sep 2013 14:00:19 +0000 mclovin

The news that Ohio has joined a majority of other states in silently using facial recognition to make drivers “suspects” without their knowledge has been in the news for the past day or so. My first impulse was to write an incendiary tract where I compared my current home state to Soviet Russia in a manner that would be favorable to Soviet Russia. In the interest of balance, however, I reached out to someone with a deeper personal knowledge on the issue to provide a more dispassionate viewpoint. We’ve honored the writer’s request, and made this an anonymous contribution —- JB

The dreaded/joyful day has arrived when your teenaged son or daughter has passed the requisite tests, and it is time to smile for the camera and proudly receive that plastic card that legally empowers him or her to drive the mean streets of your neighborhood. You’ve already warned the neighbors, and they have dutifully moved everything mobile away from the curb. The mailboxes may suffer, but what can be done? Your excited child lines up exactly where he is told (you’re shocked to see that yes, he can still respond to simple instructions), in front of the appropriately colored cloth hanging on the wall, and flashes the happiest (only?) smile you’ve seen in years, proudly showing off the thousands of dollars you spent on orthodontia. The irritated DMV worker snaps, “YOU CAN’T SMILE!!!!”* Your child’s face turns to mild annoyance, and SNAP, the somewhat puzzled look is captured for what is probably “all time” in this day and age of the “cloud”. Why are the evil DMV people raining on your kid’s parade, making driver’s license photos even more hideous than seems necessary? It’s all in the name of facial recognition.

These days in most states, in going to the DMV to get a driving permit or license (or even a state ID card for those curious non-driver types), you are not just receiving the legal authority to operate a motor vehicle and accidentally registering to vote, you are (in a majority of states) consenting to the submission of your photo to a database which can – and make no mistake, will, as allowed by state law – be searched for a variety of purposes, from identity fraud (which has been proven successful in multiple states across the nation) to searching for criminals whose identity is unknown. The use of facial recognition has been pretty big news over the past year (Boston bombing, anyone?), at least to those who pay attention to such things.

It made a huge splash over the past few weeks in Ohio. The article is a bit long, but worth the read if you care about privacy and what the government can do with your DMV photo. Also if you want a primer on how NOT to launch government use of a new, somewhat creepy, technology on an unsuspecting public, especially in a postSnowden world. And if you love reading the following arguments: “But everyone else is doing it!!!!” and “It’s going to catch bad people.” But I digress. So what is the fuss all about? If you haven’t done anything wrong, aren’t you supposed to have nothing to fear? Maybe. Maybe not.

Automated face recognition is not a “lights-out” or “positive identification” system. The result of the search doesn’t say “this is the guy, go arrest him!”, which may or may not be of any comfort. Essentially, this is what happens (prepare for horrible over-simplification – if you want the in-depth technical treatment, use the internet): your face image – your high cheekbones, the distance between your perfectly set eyes, the position of the corners of your mouth, and your Roman nose is converted into a string of 1s and 0s. When a photo is submitted to a facial recognition system for searching, that photo is likewise converted into a numerical representation. An algorithm then compares the1s and 0s of the submitted photo to the number generated to represent the cheekbones, eyes, mouth, and nose of every other individual found in the database. It isn’t image comparison, it is math; the world of cliched Ph.D.s, not mugshot line-ups of old. When it is done working its “magic”, the result is a list of photos of people who “could be the guy”.

If your perp is a (pick a race) (pick a gender), (pick an age range), the list of 10 (or 20, or 50; the number is based on variable settings which might be the “top ##” matches or a percentage threshold) could be made up of 10 people who don’t “look” like the perp – ethnicity, age, even gender could be “wrong”. (Years ago when a “celebrity doppleganger” facial recognition app was making the rounds, before I knew anything about how this stuff works, I was shocked to find the top results looked nothing like me, including wrong race and gender. The algorithms have gotten better, but it’s still math. And it’s still confused by glasses. And beards. And hats.) Once the list is provided, someone decides whether any of them might be the perp. That person may be trained in facial comparison and identification, or she could be a local cop who has received no training. In any case, law enforcement (or the DMV or any other authorized user) with the right equipment and the right access can submit a photo of someone who is not you, and (based on math) receive your driver’s license and personal information about you as a “this might be the guy” candidate. As a result of this, depending on agency rules/state laws, your photo – which you thought at the time it was taken was for that whole driving thing – could end up as part of a criminal investigation. Your information – name, date of birth, address, perhaps still in some states your social security number – might be sitting in some investigative file, or may even be uploaded into a law enforcement database. Of course there are supposed to be rules in place which protect our privacy by governing how all this information is accessed and used, but as we see from Ohio, sometimes the technological cart finds itself in front of the legal/policy horse.

When law enforcement argues that they aren’t doing anything “different” with facial recognition and DMV photos, they are right. And they’re wrong. There is something that feels decidedly different, and uncomfortable, about having our faces searched, particularly when nothing else is known about us to the searchers. When we HAVE to provide our likeness in order to do something which is so basic in our society it feels like a “right”. About the idea that our photo could be taken while we participate in a protest or a political rally, fully within our First Amendment rights, and even though there are (supposed to be) rules in place to prevent it, that photo could be run against a database, and because we drive, our identity is discovered, our anonymity dissolved. In a world where there seem to be cameras everywhere (and don’t believe everything you read – we’re not to Minority Report or Jason Bourne-type surveillance land, either technologically or legally…yet), where federal law allows your driver’s license information to be used for a shocking variety of purposes beyond even law enforcement (photos are, at least in some states, more protected from disclosure than the other information), facial recognition technology keeps marching on, and the “if it catches bad guys, it must be okay” mantra constantly clashes with the Constitution – and sometimes wins, our collective and individual feelings about privacy are, at best, conflicted. If we want to drive a motor vehicle, in most of these United States, we are consenting to the use of our image for law enforcement purposes. And somehow, that just doesn’t feel right, especially when we don’t know such uses exist.

So what is the truth to be found here about cars? If you drive one, chances are your face – and all the information attached to your driver’s license – is fair game for a technology that is new and not yet at the point where it can make perfect identity determinations. For some people this is totally unnerving. For others, it brings no discomfort. This information is not provided to tell you what to think about the issue, as reasonable minds can and do differ, but simply to make you aware that your license is not just a license to drive…in reality, in a majority of states, it is a license to allow law enforcement agencies to consider whether you are a suspect in a crime to which you have no connection, based solely on a mathematical interpretation of the structure of your face. A consideration which would never have occurred without your love and (probably actual, not simply transcendental) need for cars.

*So why can’t you smile at the DMV? (Not that most DMV experiences lead to smiles.) Smiling, and other non-neutral facial expressions, make automated facial recognition more difficult. It’s the same reason sunglasses aren’t allowed, and head coverings are prohibited unless worn for religious or medical purposes.

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Ur-Turn: Confessions of a V6 Muscle Car Owner Tue, 03 Sep 2013 15:58:09 +0000 IMG_3693-550x366

TTAC reader Richard Murdocco submits his tale of doing the unthinkable…willingly buying a V6 muscle car. While TTAC has been a proponent of the most recent V6 Mustang, few are so enlightened to its performance potential.

It was early 2011, and my last car, a 2003 Infiniti I30, became intimate with a Dodge minivan. I was just starting out my professional career, and I needed a car. Weeks prior I walked the lot of a Ford dealer on Long Island, and saw it there…a 2011 Kona Blue Ford Mustang, with the tech package, brown saddle leather seats and white stripes down the rocker panels. It was beautiful. It is a V6… *Gasp!*

I read the reviews before going shopping- despite the non-muscle car reputation of a V6 Mustang, everything on paper told me that Ford’s latest offering was nasty. A game changer. The 3.7 engine produces 305 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque and gets around 30 mpg on the highway (I’ve found that with my driving, it’s roughly 20-25…). Not bad for a car that starts around $23,000.

There are two questions that transcend the big three brands you get when you buy a Pony Car – “Bro…is it a V8?” and it’s follow up “It’s a manual right?”.  Answer no to either (or God forbid both) and the quizzical looks start. “Why wouldn’t you buy a V8? Why wouldn’t you buy a manual? Ugh!”  For a moment, you feel a mix of shame and regret. While these questions run rampant on car forums and sites such as this, thanks to innovations and radical advances in engine performance, the question isn’t as relevant as it used to be.

Despite what anyone says, today’s V6 muscle cars are the real deal.

Each year, Car and Driver conducts their annual Lightning Lap, which tests all sorts of sports cars, from the Golf GTi to Lamborghini’s, around Virginia International Speedway. At the time of my purchase, my V6 Mustang was tossed around the track with cars faster, slower, and it’s peers. Here is where things get impressive-

The V6 Mustang, once considered a rental-fleet joke, posted a time of 3 minutes, 12.5 seconds. That lap time beat V8 muscle cars: Dodge Charger SRT 8 (3:18.2), Challenger SRT8 (3:16), Rally legends Subaru WRX STi (3.13.8) and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR (3.13.3), and a variety of other impressive contenders: BMW 335is (3.13.8), Lotus Elise SC (3:16.6), Lexus IS F (3:14), and the 2010 Mustang GT 3:13.3 (Since then, the latest iteration of the Mustang GT with the 5.0 Coyote power plant beat the V6, posting an impressive 3:08 lap time).

What does all of this mean? One, we’re experiencing a renaissance of the American muscle car- enjoy it while it lasts. Two, most people can get their hands on a pony car that is more than enough for their everyday needs at an approachable price.

In fact, with 305 horsepower, a V6 Mustang is now more powerful than 90% of all of the

Mustangs ever produced. For the sake of perspective, a 1969 Shelby GT-350 produces 290 horsepower, the Fox-bodied SVR Cobra produced 235 horsepower, the 1995 Cobra R had 300 horses, and the last generation of the Mustang GT, produced from 2005 to 2010, had 300 horsepower. It’s incredible that such performance from the big three domestic auto makers is available with upwards of 250 horsepower+ for entry-level pricing. You can now essentially buy a V6 with the performance of yesteryear’s V8 for cheap, and get it all in a safer, lighter better handling package. And the trend is continuing. Each year power specs improve and handling capability increases across the industry. It is a great time to be an auto enthusiast, regardless of how many track days you partake in or how large your car collection is.

That being said, it’s going to be exciting see how today’s Pony cars evolve in the coming years. With each generation’s V8’s dominating the conversation, their V6 little brothers are becoming contenders in their own class.

The real winners here are the consumers. Poor us- having to choose between an impressive V6 or a monstrous V8…what a terrible decision to have to make.

My Mustang at Sunset on Long Island

My Mustang at Sunset on Long Island

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Recycled Hawtness: Paul Newman’s Mid-engine Indy V8-powered VW Beetle Tue, 20 Aug 2013 12:30:19 +0000

Welcome‘s Jo Borras to our HIGHLY EXCLUSIVE AND UPSCALE circle of TTAC contributors. Jo’s brought us a piece on a “recycled” VW Beetle. Check it out and give his site a click, too! — JB

We’ve often said that the greenest car is the one that’s already built, and we’ve featured several repurposed cars, bikes, and even campers here on Gas 2 that loudly proclaim “You don’t need a new car!” and, hopefully, inspire you to put more love and more elbow grease into your existing car and – if you do it right – end up with something that’s worth more than the sum of its parts.

Which brings me to this car. The original “Godzilla”. The OG, as it were. Newman’s own Ford racing V8-powered Volkswagen Bug, and it may be the first car to be nicknamed “Godzilla” by the automotive press way back in the 1960s, and it was busy earning its monstrous reputation (some 48 years before Nissan’s R35 came along) at places like Ontario Speedway, where some cat named “Paul Newman” was using it to abuse John Z. Delorean’s hotshoes at a Camaro “open house” trackday.

Yes, that Paul Newman.

Even without its famous owner history, this car deserves every ounce of respect you can give it. Consider that, underneath the unassuming and nearly stock-looking VW Type I shell is a Jerry Eisert-designed IndyCar-style chassis that had 351 cubic inches of Ford Racing V8 engine built by the masters at Holman Moody stuffed between its members. That Ford V8 was mated to a ZF transaxle á la Ford GT40. Up front, a custom-fabricated, double-wishbone front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering setup replaced the VW’s torsion bars. A set of Koni coilovers pushed the tires to the ground, while, out back, a set of Corvair-sourced trailing arms worked in concert with an Eisert-designed a-arm.

In short, Paul Newman’s “Godzilla” V8 Volkswagen was (and I say this without hyperbole) the sikkest sleeper car of 1970. Even knowing that, though, you get a better sense of what this car really was (is?) when you look underneath. Luckily, one of the car’s fans, Roy Gardner, posted a number of “pre-restoration” photos of the car, and shared a little of the car’s story …

I attended Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California in the early seventies because I’d read in Hot Rod Magazine it was one of the finest automotive schools in the country. They had an accredited racing program with weekday lecture and all-Saturday lab, taught by Kent Fisk. They designed, built, and operated Formula V cars, an El Camino drag car, a scratch-built Bonneville streamliner, a Rambler Scrambler Baja 500 car (ex James Garner, could be a whole ‘nother website), race car transporter with a 455 Olds engine, and more. While I was earning my A.S. Degree in Automotive Technology, I saw the Beetle in the school’s storage yard. I was intrigued and asked about it. The story I was told was Paul Newman wanted to blow off the Corvettes and Porsches on Mullholland Avenue in Los Angeles with the unlikeliest of cars and commissioned Jerry Eisert, an Indy car constructor, to build it for him.

He drove it a lot, then donated it to Chaffey (college).

… I’ve picked out a few of the more telling photos of Paul Newmans’ V8 Superbug, and highlighted some of the features to pay attention to, below.

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here’s Roy posing with the car as it looked in its “college days”. It was painted in the more flash white/red, two-tone paint scheme from the original red.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here you can see the Ford GT40/ZF transaxle. Most people I’ve shown this to seem to think this is a DeTomaso Pantera setup, but it’s worth mentioning that Paul Newman’s bug pre-dates the Pantera by at least a year.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

This is a good shot of the custom front suspension and subframe, and also a decent shot of the car’s relatively advanced “flat floor”, which wouldn’t be picked up in another roadcar until the Ferrari F355 some 30-odd years later. You can also make out the hard cooling lines connecting the front-mounted radiators to the mid-mounted V8.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Roy also got to drive the car occasionally, if this photo is to be believed. How he avoided the temptation to start frantically gunning the throttle and setting the ass end of the car on smoky, rubbery fire while one of his buddies filmed him hooning a legit piece of automotive history is totally beyond me, but he was good enough to also post these old scans of HotRod articles that featured the car, so I guess we can forgive him.


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Identity Politics and the Transgressive Nature of Autocross Sun, 14 Jul 2013 15:37:53 +0000 Image courtesy the author.

Please welcome Ryan Patrick Murphy to TTAC. A college professor and automotive enthusiast, he’s owned two E28 BMWs, a couple of M3s, and an old 911. Lately, he has been nursing a Land Rover Discovery back to health with the aid of a local junkyard. His first contribution is a tribute to those low-eyed, Tilley-hat-wearing, steering-wheel-jerking parking-lot rats known as autocrossers — JB (SCCA autocrosser since 2002!)

I’ve been participating in a form of motorsport called autocross for about three and a half years now. It is in some ways an odd and unfamiliar sport to the general public. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of describing it, and I’ve noticed that avid enthusiasts are very particular about the language they use when explaining it to others. Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation:

Her: “So what do you do for fun?”
Me: “I race old BMWs.”
Her: “REALLY??”
Me: (casually) “Yep”
Her: “Tell me about it!”

1. We go to a parking lot, set up cones, and then drive through them one at a time.

This makes it sound like we are reliving our high school driver’s ed experience . The disappointment is often visible – as though I’d suggested I like to lift weights, but then it was discovered that by ‘weights’ I meant those little purple hand weights old ladies flaunt on their morning walks.

Let’s go now to description number two, a more carefully nuanced explanation:

2. We compete in a timed event on a course which changes for each race. The courses are designed to be exceptionally technical driving challenges, which require an enormous amount of precision in terms of car control. Accelerating, braking, and steering all have to be done with great finesse, while trying to carry as much speed as possible. Times are measured to the third decimal point.

While both descriptions are accurate, the latter yields better responses, and, I think better captures the essence of the sport in terms of its technical rigor. You see, because there are no straights, the turns occur in immediate succession; one has to think about one’s line through them, so as to be in the right position for the next (much like thinking several moves ahead in a game of chess).

Naturally, speed is important—or it wouldn’t be much fun—but the trick is knowing just when and where to put it down. Moment by moment, one has to have an excellent feel for how the car is sitting on its suspension, what forces are already acting on the vehicle, and how much traction the tires currently have. For example: will mashing the accelerator right now cause the car to settle into the turn on its haunches and rocket out into the next turn on my desired line? Or, is the car already at the limits of adhesion, such that more gas will result in a lurid drift? While this might at least amuse the corner workers, it will cost dearly in time. Worse, though, and more likely, applying throttle may simply induce under-steer and cause me to plow dead-ahead into the next set of cones. It’s easy to drive a car fast on the freeway. But to be able to hustle a car through a course designed to keep it unsettled is a skill most drivers will never develop.

One of the things I find most fascinating about the sport though, is its unpredictability, and it is here that we encounter something of the sociological dimension of autocross. Cars are not mere appliances – they carry weight regarding our identities. We assess each other socially, culturally, economically, and aesthetically by the vehicles we drive. This dynamic—present during your morning commute—is only heightened at a driving event. The great thing about autocross is that there is not necessarily a correlation between whatever prestige your car possesses in your driveway or on the freeway, and how well you’ll do in the event.

On a race track, a fast car is typically a fast car – meaning, it will likely turn in faster lap times than what the general public would consider to be a slower car. On an autocross course, you’d be a fool to bet on the outcome without knowing the drivers – and because each course is different, you’d want to have driven that particular course before you speculated about outcomes. This is one of the most exciting aspects of attending an event: all the normal signifiers of a car’s performance must be suspended; that ratty old BMW 2002 might just turn in a better time than that supercharged E46 M3—then again, it might just blow blue smoke.

Several years ago, I attended an autocross school put on by my local BMW chapter. There was the usual delightful variety of machinery present: an E34 M5, an old Scirocco, a civic with giant slicks in the front, a host of E30s, a caged C6 Corvette – you get the point: enough diversity to satisfy any state university humanities department. As the day progressed, I watched a clearly well-loved pre-’85 944 whip up on a new V10 equipped M6. The latter was piloted by a fellow with leather gloves and new driving shoes, who was visibly displeased. He left at lunch. As the sticker says: “Anyone can drive a fast car. Not everyone can drive a car fast”.

Autocross is about having fun with your car in the company of great people. It’s also about learning that your limits as a driver are usually much lower than the performance limits of whatever you happen to have in the driveway.

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Ur-Turn: I Drove An Amati Tue, 27 Nov 2012 14:00:43 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Yesterday’s piece on Mazda’s “upmarket” move (really, a pledge to improve the quality of their cars) dredged up the name “Amati”, as these discussions are wont to do. The legend of Amati has persisted for years, partly due to the fact that so little is known about the project.

Later on in the day, I recieved a note from reader “Blue Maus”, who was an exec at one of the larger foreign OEMs, but left the industry some years ago. Since Blue Maus is known to us personally, and has a whole library of stories akin to “The Autobiography of BS”, we have no reason to doubt the veracity of his claim

When I was at [redacted] they had a catalog (note: a catalog car is a somewhere between a hand-built prototype and a true pre-production car – DK) Amati that Mazda had lent them. I went out in it with a bunch of marketing guys. It was a beautiful car to look at but it inexplicably had a tiny trunk that made no sense in a car of that class. There was a rumor going around that Mazda had copied the design from Jaguar. Don’t know if there was any substance to that. It was Grey. I remember it had a quite nicely put together leather interior – I think it was a two-tone grey dashboard with black or grey leather seats and I think it had some walnut trim around the shifter. Driving experience was OK nothing memorable. The trunk sticks in my mind.

Believe it or not, this kind of horse trading is common amongst the OEMs. But catalog cars, lacking any sort of VIN number, are inevitably sent to the crusher, unless someone decides to send them off to a warehouse.

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Ur-Turn: A Metalhead Responds To The Scion Piece Mon, 08 Oct 2012 15:43:35 +0000

TTAC Reader Richard responds to Derek’s Scion Metalhead Marketing piece from the perspective of a car lover and metal fan

” ‘Entrails ripped from a virgin’s c**t,’ ” I thought to myself.  Toyota wants to play patron to a musical genre that has spawned songs like ‘Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C**t’ and ‘Christraping Black Metal.’ What are they thinking?”

My disbelief at Scion AV’s announcement echoed across heavy metal fandom. If there’s such a thing as collective cognitive dissonance, Scion AV caused it. Nobody could believe that Toyota was going to do this. What did heavy metal have to do with selling cars? And why would Toyota risk its stodgy and safe image on promoting itself via heavy metal, even if done through the ‘edgy’ and ‘youth-oriented’ Scion brand?

Toyota’s decision was and is questionable in four ways. First up: return on investment, if such a thing is calculable in this sort of endeavor. Not only was Toyota going to promote itself by sponsoring heavy metal concerts and EP length recordings, but it was going subterranean with its efforts. For mainstream listeners, metal consists of the four biggest bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Judas Priest, plus whatever’s big at the moment. In the 90s and early 2000s, that would’ve been bands like Pantera, Tool, and nu-metal dreck like KoRn and Limp Bizkit. Today it would be bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TTAC’s readership hasn’t heard of them. Toyota/Scion AV charged right past all of those commercially viable bands and straight into the underground.

Not to the deepest portions of the underground, though. Not to the boutique labels that release 666 hand numbered copies of an album on vinyl, but deep enough to make someone like me question their wisdom. Deep enough to make me wonder how they could ever justify their return on investment.

As of 10/07/12, here are the listener counts for some big name metal bands:

Iron Maiden: 1,707,577 listeners and 117,145,590 listens
Metallica: 2,222,074 listeners and 200,177,496 listens
KoRn: 2,144,093 listeners and 95,712,085 listens
Black Sabbath: 1,887,855 listeners and 59,002,836 listens

Some bands that are currently on major labels:

Mastodon: 595,766 listeners and 27,849,836 listens
Opeth: 649,761 listeners and 54,861,149 listens
Lamb of God: 836,366 listeners and 35,661,176 listens

…and the listener counts for 7 of the bands that Scion has sponsored on tour and/or via free EP releases:

Enslaved: 134,715 listeners and 6,138,855 listens
Revocation: 23,991 listeners and 713,002 listens
Immolation: 65,737 listeners and 2,725,147 listens
Melvins: 263,004 listeners and 9,104,309 listens
Wolves in the Throne Room: 80,512 listeners and 2,422,323 listens
Nachtmystium: 41,598 listeners and 1,666,147 listens
Pallbearer: 7,362 listeners and 105,479 listens

There’s a good reason why the playcounts for the Scion AV bands are so relatively low, and it’s not the quality of the music. Toyota did not choose a musically accessible genre to sponsor. Death metal variously presents the listener with a 200+ bpm assault, specialized drumming techniques, sweep-picking, and dozens of parts per song, or alternatively, sludgy and murky riffs delivered at a zombie’s lurch. Black metal is based around heavily distorted guitars tremolo strummed as quickly as possible, creating a hypnotic sheet of white noise. Doom metal moves like a zombie without legs. Across subgenres, extreme metal’s vocals are mostly performed using the false cords in the throat, so the result is a variety of screams, shrieks, grunts, and roars. All of this stuff is impenetrable and repulsive to most mainstream listeners.

Tour attendance is commensurate with those counts. Toyota also chose not to sponsor big metal package tours like Summer Slaughter or Ozzfest. Scion AV is true niche marketing.

Second, there’s the potential for damage to Toyota’s reputation. Underground metal’s lyrics are as extreme as the music. Satanism, gore, depictions of violence, misogyny, misanthropy, anti-religious screeds, the occult, and pagan religions are common lyrical topics. The musicians can be as extreme as the music. Deicide’s frontman has branded his forehead with an upside down cross for years. Black metal has a history of racism, murder, church burnings, suicide, and possibly cannibalism. (Note: the ‘black’ refers to the music’s tone, not the skin color of the musicians.)

Toyota was and is attempting to sell average American cars with the musical equivalent of Formula 1 racers, Top Fuel Dragsters, and primered diesel Chevettes. Not only that, but they are running the risk that Joe Sixpack and Jane Housewife discover that Scion is promoting music that runs counter to everything they believe in. Joe and Jane might not know enough or care enough to do the research to find out that Toyota sponsors evil music through Scion AV, but that doesn’t matter. Give the Christian Right or PC Left two minutes on the Internet, and they’ll suss it out and spread the word. This has happened before. Does anybody remember Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Council? Or the time Judas Priest were sued for backmasking suicidal messages, or when Slayer was sued for causing their fans to commit ritual “Satanic” murders?

The third and fourth questionable aspects of the Scion AV endeavor are the customer base that Toyota is attempting to reach. While there are plenty of old-timer metalheads who were there in the 70s and 80s, there are many, many more metalheads who are in their mid 30s or 20s. I’m 29, and thus at the beginning of the Gen Y/Why generation. If you’ve paid attention to the news, we are being hit hard by unemployment and decreasing wages. We’re saddled with monster student loans and massive national debt. I won’t belabor you with further details.

Frankly, metalheads are nerds. Most of us Gen Y types barely have money for our chosen hobby. Cars? Who gives a shit! We’ve chosen an expensive hobby, one that’s comparable in nerd factor and financial drain to…being a car nerd.

One thing Toyota got right: metalheads, like most people, treat cars as appliances. I’m an exception; I know one other metalhead who cares about cars. My goofy pen-name is drawn from an obscure metal song about cars, I drive a Cobalt SS (turbo and LSD, natch), and I used to own a GTO Monaro (LS2 ftw). I’m doing better than many Gen Y’ers in that I have a stable job with career prospects and high demand from Fortune 500 companies. I can afford to sock money away and keep the Cobalt happy and fed and still drop a few hundred dollars a month on heavy metal crap. If push came to shove though, I’d sell the Cobalt and find something used, cheap, reliable, and with a stick so that I could keep buying metal stuff. I am not going to miss out on limited print run CDs from my favorite labels. In that, I’m one with the metalhead crowd.

Finally, assuming that metalheads had money for cars or particularly cared about them, there’s the risk that Scion’s sponsorship will (or has) backfired on Toyota. Underground metal is staunchly independent. The lack of money circulating through the genre’s marketplace means that bands and record labels are fiercely DIY. We picked up on 80s punk and hardcore’s anti-mainstream, anti-success attitude. We’re opposed to plays for commercial or mainstream acceptance. We’ll turn harder than Schumaker’s Ferrari when a band tries to sell out. We don’t need Scion’s money. Some of us don’t want it.

We value our freedom of speech as well, allowing Cannibal Corpse to lyrically torture women and Arghoslent to write racist horseshit like “Quelling the Simian Surge.”

Like any culture or group, we need enemies. We need an Other. We’ve had many: punk rock and hardcore, posers, hair metal, nu-metal, sell-outs, grunge/alternative rock, and carpetbagging hipster thieves. The music industry itself.

Add those factors, anti-commerce, pro-freedom of speech, and oppositional attitudes, and Scion’s courting disaster. The slightest misstep, and we’ll perceive them as exploiting us, censoring us, or working against us. Even if they get things right, we might just take their gifts and ignore their cars anyway.

You don’t need me to say this, but it bears repeating: corporations would sacrifice babies if made them cool to consumers. Precious few companies ever become cool. I don’t think any company has ever advertised its way into being cool.

So far, Scion hasn’t screwed themselves over, but they haven’t achieved any immediately obvious success either. To put it bluntly, whoever’s running the operation knows their shit and did their research. They’ve sponsored respectable first-tier underground bands. They haven’t overdone it, and they haven’t censored anybody. Their concerts have been professional and well run. They’ve treated the bands and fans better than they would usually be treated within the confines of the metal industry: the tickets are cheap or free, the bands get paid on time and per contract, and the EPs are completely and totally free for download. Because the bands that Scion chose aren’t all that objectionable* in relative terms, nobody’s been censored other than perhaps a written or unwritten understanding that they don’t publicly slag Scion or Toyota. The Scion branded merch is free and reportedly both quality and not overdone. The socks in particular are apparently quite popular.

Nevertheless, there’s the success and return on investment issue. Again, I’ve seen almost no evidence that Scion’s campaign is working. I’ve heard through the grapevine that a number of band members are quite grateful and have reciprocated by purchasing vehicles. That’s not Scion’s goal, because touring bands have no money and the bulk of the metal customer base are mere fans like me. This past summer, I attended Maryland Deathfest, which is the largest and best extreme metal fest in America. I estimate that over 3,000 people attended it. I made a point of walking the parking lot. There were plenty of older Toyotas and a few newer ones. There were no Scions.

However, this is Toyota we’re talking about. Toyota plays the long game; like the Soviet Union, they’ve got 5 year plans and they stick to them, except that the plans actually work. Toyota is marketing to a niche, but it’s cheap marketing. Those EPs can’t have cost more than $25k each to record and release each, and in the metal underworld, the publicity takes care of itself. A couple of thousand dollars per tour date in a band’s coffers is a rounding error in Toyota’s annual advertising budget. In exchange, Scion gets to plaster their logo on artwork, merch, and banners. People like me blog about it. I’d be shocked if Scion AV’s total cost to Toyota is more than a million dollars a year. It’s also worth mentioning that Scion AV is targeting genres other than metal as well.

If we judge Scion AV as a long-term marketing campaign, than I’ve already seen an example of it succeeding. One of my fellow metal bloggers recently purchased a Corolla S instead of a Civic or Focus. He bought the car because it met his needs and because Toyota gave him the best deal. However, he admitted that he remembered Scion AV’s sponsorship and how it treated us.

That’s what Toyota is banking on. They know that most of us aren’t filthy, drugged up, unemployable morons. They know that one day we’ll need cars. And when that time comes, we might remember that free Enslaved EP and that cheap Pallbearer tour date in New York City, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll reciprocate.

Choosing metal was astute in a more subtle way than just the cheapness of the sponsorships, because metalheads are loyal consumers. We’ll stick with a band even through crap album after crap album. We’ll welcome them back after a stylistic misstep. We’ll attend tours and put up with the weak songs just to hear the hits, and we’ll drive or fly cross country to do it. When was the last time you bought every CD that a record company released? We know individual record labels’ release schedules, and we buy every album based on label recognition alone.

Companies not named Apple would, again, sacrifice babies for this kind of loyalty. It’s feasible that if we buy a Toyota and it doesn’t suck, we’ll be back in 5 to 10 years to buy another, and another, and another. Of course, that’s true of other consumers as well.

I wrote this as a partial response to Derek’s recent piece regarding Scion AV, which comes at least two years after Scion AV started supporting metal. The overall message of Derek’s post was that Scion AV supporting metal is a waste and a mistake. I’m not convinced that it will be a waste or a mistake, especially if Scion AV keeps going and ramps up their efforts to full albums and additional tours. Derek linked to an AdWeek article, and paraphrasing it, Scion’s sales manager claims that Scion’s advertising sells cars and that metalheads buy cars in quantity enough to justify the marketing. I have no idea how Toyota will back up that determination with data, now or ever. At current funding and effort levels, I think Scion AV will turn out to be a wash for Toyota. Then again, I still think they’d do better to sponsor bigger acts and package tours. It’d cost more money, but it would reach a much, much larger audience.

You could also argue that targeting underground metal, a subculture that is brand apathetic as it pertains to cars, is genius. Being first does count for something.

As previously mentioned, Toyota and Scion took a risk associating themselves with underground metal. If certain elements from either side of political spectrum, especially on the Republican side, decide to pay attention, this could all backfire badly on Toyota. Chevy, Ford, Home Depot, and Target have all been boycotted for advertising to the LBGT community or for being LBGT friendly. I’m sure that in the Religious Right’s eyes, metalheads fall at or below the LBGT community in terms of undesirability.

Derek also focused on one of the Scion sales manager’s (Yoshizu) quotes as being particularly bullshitty:

“[A metal fan is] not necessarily trying to be a trendsetter, but more of a thought leader. They’re really into journalism. Their blogs are like 2,000 words [each].”

and also:

“The person I’m now targeting is more inclusive about their community.”

Derek was right about one thing: this is a PR hack’s flack. I know what the Scion dude is saying, though. He’s talking about me and a lot of metal fans that I know, the bloggers especially. We pride ourselves on our taste in music and sharing bands that we think are good. Every time I review a band’s album, I’m bring that band more fans. I’m supporting my bands with more than just my dollars. I don’t know about “trendsetting” or “thought leading,” from I am definitely free publicity and I am definitely inclusive about my community. Yoshizu was right about metalheads talking about Scion AV tours and releases.

Yoshizu’s on a roll:

“They actually appreciate the corporate contribution[.]”

As they say on these internets: +1. I don’t know for a fact whether Toyota’s investment in my preferred musical genre is paying off for the company. None of the fans do. It doesn’t matter. Most of us are happy to benefit from Toyota’s largesse. I certainly am. I won’t start objecting until I learn that Toyota is actually paying bands a middle class salary or dropping huge wads of cash in their pockets.

In the meantime, keep buying Toyota products, Scions in particular. I suspect that your dollars are throwing my bands’ concerts and recording my bands’ music. Thanks for reading, and thanks for paying. I’ll think of TTAC’s commenters and throw some horns on your behalf the next time I see a show.

N.B. One band, Nachtmystium, had their Scion AV sponsorship pulled due to allegations of racism and racist beliefs. The band claims that they are not racist.

Richard Street-Jammer has been a metalhead for over a decade. He makes dumb jokes, car metaphors, and rambles incoherently about bands older than he is at He wishes he hadn’t chosen such a dopey but appropriate pen name.

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